Tomorrow is the first day of school in my neck of the woods. New clothes, new school supplies, new haircuts, new experiences, new beginnings. And in our home, a new tradition is starting. Or more accurately, a new daily after-school question, complements of Condoleezza Rice.
I remember once hearing an interview Rice gave where she shared a skill her parents taught her as a child—one that she attributed to much of her success in life. As I listened, I’m not sure what I expected her to say, but I’m sure it wasn’t, “My parents instilled in me the love of questions.”
The love of questions? How can that be? According to her, when she was growing up, her parents asked her the same question when she came home from school every day. They asked her, “What questions did you ask today?” Not, How was your day? or What did you learn today?, but “What questions did you ask today?”
Each day her parents reinforced what they wanted her to do. They wanted her to ask questions. To seek answers. To be curious. To obtain more knowledge. I don’t know, maybe they also wanted her to not be shy. To stand out. To set a positive example for her peers. To exude confidence. To trust herself….
Whatever their motives were, when I look over the list above, I see nothing but positive outcomes for little Condoleezza. They wanted to set their daughter up for success in life, and this is one of probably many ways they chose.
Now a grown women, she reflected on how that one question, asked each day by her parents, set things into motion for her. She noted that over the years, she’s been in the position to be a part of making some pretty big decisions. Decisions that affected our nation, and in truth, affected the rest of the world. She said that in observing her colleagues, it wasn’t always the smartest ones who came to the best conclusions or made the best decisions. It was the ones who asked the most questions. Gathering information. Listening carefully.
I hadn’t thought of asking questions as a skill. However, after hearing this, I looked inward and with little to no thought I knew this to be true: I’m horrible at asking questions. To be honest, I avoid them—always have—especially personal questions; it is simply not in my nature to ask questions.
But just because it’s not in my nature, that doesn’t mean I should continue to hit my “Default/Comfort” setting and not try anything new. I understand this isn’t like trying a new ice cream flavor or a new nail polish color, but rather what I’m suggesting is making an effort to change something at my core—but what’s the down side? I get out of my box, I feel a little uncomfortable, and then what? Oh yeah, I learn something new! Even if you’re a question-asker and can’t relate to someone not being comfortable asking questions, I’m sure you’d agree that it’s a very odd feeling to purposely do something that goes against your natural tendencies, whatever they may be.
So tomorrow afternoon, as my kids come rushing through the door, excited to tell me about their first day of school, I will listen. And when it’s my turn to talk, I will refrain from beginning with my usual first-day-of-school questions: How was your first day? Did you like your teachers? Did you make any new friends? Instead, I will put aside my itching-to-know-the-details-self and first say, “So, tell me, what questions did you ask today?” And I will stop and listen to their answers. They will model for me something that will feel foreign at first. And little by little, we will teach each other all sorts of wonderful things.
Besides, I mustn’t forget the completely separate benefit of asking questions—the one called: the more we ask, the less we make assumptions. Ouch!—oh yes, that one! But hey, that’s an entirely different post, all on its own. I’ll leave the “Don’t Make Assumptions” work to don Miguel Ruiz. For now, I gotta get the kids to bed.