The Kitchen Vedantist

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The Art of Asking Questions

think stencil art & graffiti cat

think stencil art & graffiti cat (Photo credit: urbanartcore.eu)

Yesterday , I was brainstorming about finding an interesting game to be shared with a friend and it dawned on me that we could do it by asking each other questions that take thought and  daring. Then it so happened that during the course of the day I sent a friend request to a celebrity Facebook member. Unlike most other celebrities who accept friend requests without asking much- taking it for granted that the person is just another fan- he dived straight into asking a lot of questions- who, where, and the like. Some of the questions sounded pretty harsh to start with, but then it smoothed into a comfortable flow, coming from a genuine desire to know and understand. Eventually I decided to shelve my game for the time being, but a significant part of my thoughts went probing into the art of asking questions.

Suddenly I realized that there’s a lot more at stake in the transaction. Strictly speaking this isn’t the first time the topic has come up-I have had an adult life’s share of experience with uncomfortable questions and smartass answers. However this time I was thinking of deliberately introducing difficult questions and why they are important. My google search yielded some insightful stuff, like this Harvard Business Review blog post by Ron Ashkenas, bearing the same title. However, here and elsewhere I got to, the discussion revolved around the structured worlds of business, education and coaching. Things have to be much trickier and murkier in the realm of inner and of interpersonal spaces.

Children are known to throw around uncomfortable, undiplomatic questions. As adolescents we are still at a loss how to frame what we want to know and convey. By this time however we can sense the awkwardness that follow some of the exchanges. Most can steer clear of too much of unpleasantness as they reach the adult status.

The progress varies greatly from here. The sensitive kinds become too scared to ask questions, aside from the most basic and inane ones. Some of us develop the impression that the sophisticated thing is to not appear too obvious and resort to indirect methods. In both cases, conclusions are mostly based on presumptions and assumptions and no open conversation happens. We are equally scared to probe deep into what goes on inside of our heads. Understandably, we grow very little as people, and our relationships lack depth and intimacy.

It is yet another question how to create interpersonal spaces where people feel welcome to ask questions including “pain questions” and validated in their frank responses. This is in a way an exercise in building trust, demanding thought, courage, sensitivity and commitment from all involved.

And then there are answers and solutions we seek in our field of work/engagement; and also the BIG Questions. (We might think that  the BIG questions are the worry of the Big Brains sitting at universities and institutes. In my experience, anyone with an active curiosity can’t help getting into these tricky affairs. Moreover, the questions didn’t become big because they were formed by the Big Brains, did they? )And the questions we need to formulate are getting trickier by the day. They are not only more interdisciplinary, leaving us with no firm foothold from where to throw the net for that elusive fish of an answer; oftentimes we end up changing our mind about what it is that we are seeking.

So what is your style of asking questions?

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May 8, 2013 Posted by | communication, consciousness, creativity, self expression, talk, Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

A Conversation from Long Back

Dude

“You called?”

“No”

“But you’re laughing”

(Dude when I call and leave a message you seldom call back. And now when I  hadn’t really called you call out of the blue. How am I expected to react?)

I didn’t say that.

“Here I was so bored I was hoping to find at least a cat to talk to”

“Hmm”

Don’t know what he found so amusing in it. The next day he presented himself with a big grin “Here’s a cat you can talk to”

July 31, 2012 Posted by | communication | , , , | Leave a comment

A Page from Future History

Hervey clouds formed during storm from north-w...

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The last letter
Written on paper
Was an act of faith
A fragile oath

Words of love or hate
Torn to random shreds
Perchance it just took
A careless cigarette stub

Tucked under closed doors
By an indifferent hand,
To be stolen by the wind,
Read by monsoon’s tears
Or trampled under shoes
Rushing to meet goals

The last sent letter
Those complicated times
Opened to weary eyes
On a closed face
Or did it reach out late
For a heart long since stopped to beat?

September 29, 2010 Posted by | communication, poems, poems, self expression, Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments

The Life of a Word

Not sure if someone has said this before: “writing to me is like a snake shedding its skin. I move on and the thought is no longer part of me”. This is how I have often felt- at least during my early writing experience. There is a certain kind of re-emergence happening.

There is a difference though. The skin the snake sheds is a lifeless thing. It just lies there. One need not elaborate on the power of the word. All the great literature of the world, all the oratory stand testimony to that.

Isn’t it strange, the power a word has? What is a word after all? A word is just a symbol of an object or a thought. It is a mere carrier, without mass. Except when written, a word doesn’t require space either.

Is it energy or life a word has? Is a word like a knife thrown or a bullet shot? Perhaps. Except, the path of a knife or bullet is fairly predictable. In the hand of a good marksman it finds its target. Else, the path is still a simple curve. Not so with the word. Even the most expert writer or orator cannot chart the course a word takes.

Maybe a word is a living thing. It feeds on emotions and needs. Perhaps it is akin to a virus- once thrown out, it lies dormant and acquires full life only when it finds another live thing. And then it all depends on how the host is wired.

September 1, 2010 Posted by | communication, consciousness, philosophy, self expression, talk, Uncategorized | , , , | 3 Comments

Lost in Transmission

Statue of Confucius on Chongming Island in Sha...

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A recent conversation about the nature of communication has left me wondering. The guy, someone whose views and judgment I value a lot, was going to meet his friends from schooltime, and I asked “Can you still connect with them?”. He said , “I speak to them in my own way”. He continued that no matter who your correspondent is, they’ll make what they want out of your words. I can readily see the point…our interpretation of someone’s words and deeds is tempered by our own attitudes, experiences and state of mind at that point in time. But doesn’t that make each human an island unto himself? If total communication were not possible, why this irresistible instinct for self expression that only the great silent ones (munis) could overcome? Why this need to be understood?

On the other hand, is this such a one-sided need? Don’t we all at times want to get inside someone’s head, see and experience things as they do? What of that saying “to know someone is to love them”? Why do we buy books and art? Why do great works of art and literature appeal to people divided by centuries and vast geographical expanses? Where lies the universal and where the individual?

These thoughts remind me of a quest in an entirely different field. I just can’t stop marveling about the delightfully thought provoking Edge essay by neuroscientist V S Ramachandran about mirror neurons. Call it empathy, call it collective subconscious, there indeed seems to be some kind of overlapping of minds/experience/consciousness.

Coming back to the munis, is silence the ultimate desirable? Did they withdraw into silence because they realized experience can never be expressed in words? Is it the ultimate victory when one overcomes the need for self expression? If so, have I fallen from grace by starting this blog?

August 25, 2010 Posted by | communication, culture, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments