Artful Questioning

Questioning artfully is a powerful approach to self-guided learning, the kind of learning we must pursue when the textbooks do not exist to carry us far enough into a field of inquiry, when our favorite guru runs short of solutions, or when the truths we seek seem as inaccessible as a Top Secret file. Artful questioning is a “whole brain” activity that employs intuition as well as a building-block approach to discovery.

Questioning in general is not as simple and straightforward as it sounds. To yield the desired results the effort must be conducted effectively and should be done efficiently. Who has time to waste? Besides, too many questions and we begin creating a cloud of unnecessary confusion on top of the ignorance that already confounds us. Yet, too few questions and we fail to adequately serve our purpose. And, of course, the wrong questions serve no good purpose at all.

Not even the deepest enigma is unanswerable. However, a given question may not be answerable directly, or immediately. Other artful questions often need to pave the way.

The building blocks to “artful questioning” are:

– Access to knowledge

– Analytical ability

– Self-knowledge and control

– Successful problem-solving experience

– Good judgment

– Self-motivation/desire to know

– Clear, unbiased thought

The following are some thoughts and suggestions to help use these building blocks, or stepping stones, to help you gain better answers to questions, better approaches to meeting difficult challenges.

Access to Knowledge

Never in the history of humanity has knowledge been so accessible. For example, the Freedom of Information Act has given the world access to U. S. government documents previously sealed and stored away from public scrutiny. Never has knowledge increased at such a high rate or become available so quickly to so many seekers of solutions.

Yes, compiling libraries of leading-edge books and other publications and gathering information electronically is a costly undertaking but must be seen as a necessary investment. The cost of ignorance is always higher, unaffordable.

In addition to private and public hard-copy libraries, the personal computer has given us the ability to seek information at the speed of light. Shelves of books are becoming available on computer disks that can be held in one hand, or downloadable to virtual desktops. Banks of data from around the world are becoming available on the Information Superhighway and its related wireless skyway.

However, considering the uniquely empowering opportunity for unhampered, uncensored exchanges that digital technology makes available, it is ironic and sad to see the new form of censorship that has infected cyberspace; some “list moderators,” and domineering list participants, venomously impose philosophical/dogmatic limitations, resisting with extreme zeal the sharing of observations, evidence, ideas, and opinions that challenge their cherished viewpoints. So, if one decides to subscribe to discussion lists, lurk before you leap into a time-wasting abyss. Although laws designed to protect you against libelous statements and copyright infringement apply to the internet, web-wide democracy is not guaranteed; the owner of the server you visit can be as fascistic as s/he pleases. This situation serves to remind us that not all data is information and not all “information” is knowledge. Knowledge implies Truth.

To ponder the question of how we know what we know is too deep to explore in this brief article but a good place to start a study would be Dr. David Hawkins’ book Reality and Subjectivity (Veritas Publishing, West Sedona, AZ, 2003).

Analytical Ability

There is nothing mysterious implied here. If you can make a decent book report you can condense and compare the salient aspects of almost any resource material. It is mostly a matter of being watchful to catch nuggets that hold meaning for you without losing sight of their fuller context.

Whenever possible, triangulate your findings by seeking the answer from at least three sources. Where there are differences, try to reconcile them objectively. The views of tried-and-true sources make for fast bridges to the other side of an issue but the ferryboat ride that an alternative pathway affords puts you closer to the water. Both are useful. Enlightened subjectivity is also valuable.

Be constantly vigilant in guarding your need for analytical balance against attacks from your own ingrained biases. If this seems difficult and you are not already familiar with the principles of neurolinguistic programming, which can greatly aid self-analysis and personal transformation, read Frogs into Princes, by Richard Bandler and John Grinder (Real People Press, Moab, Utah, 1979).

Self-Knowledge and Control

The Bible says, “To thine own self be true.” The problem is that many people have difficulty seeing themselves and knowing themselves, which is necessary before they can take control to be true to themselves. It begins by observing our own behavior, our tendencies, our inclinations.

For example, if you are aware that you tend to skim reading material for points that will buttress your preconceptions, force yourself to study material containing viewpoints with which you presently disagree. Find something in it that has value for you. It may be one new fact that adds weight to your present opinion. Or it may be something disagreeable that your “inner voice” says has merit. If so, do not be afraid to modify your mindset or change your conclusions. Seek patiently and persistently.

To have self-awareness, or self-truthfulness, is as crucial as having the ability to determine the quality of external information. There are many ways to improve self-awareness. Dr. Robert Anton Wilson’s books are useful to the effort to break loose of habitual thoughts and conceptualizing. If you are unfamiliar with his unique brand of genius, try his book Quantum Psychology (New Falcon Publications, Tempe, AZ, 1990).

Successful Problem-Solving Experience

Think about problems you have faced in the past. Select a few of the most important ones, where something major was at stake: an important relationship, a large sum of money, or a life-threatening situation. Consider how you approached those problems and identify the critical elements that facilitated their successful resolution.

Although it may have been unconscious, in the course of solving those problems you most likely asked yourself questions of a certain nature and, perhaps, in a certain order, according to a personal process. If you put your approach in writing do you think it would provide a reliable guide to solving problems in general? Select a present problem you need to address and try it.

In my twenty-year banking career I was always concerned to make the right decisions, decisions that would be to the best possible ones for both my employer and its customers. I became fascinated by the many ways people make decisions and by the fact that some people persisted in taking a particular approach even when the results were frequently poor. I read every book I could find on decision-making and none produced results as well as my own brand of informed intuition.

In developing the Noetiteksm system I became curious to know whether this system I invented, which is based on a hidden process of Nature, corresponded with the way a naturally-gifted already high-performing individual would intuitively approach a problem. I interviewed such a person and asked her to describe the mental steps she would follow in planning to write a thesis on an unfamiliar topic. I was amazed and excited to hear her describe a systematic approach that corresponded exactly to the stages of the system I had invented.

Good Judgment

Every subject is boundless if we allow ourselves the freedom to realize that everything is related to all else in the universe. So, we must use our best judgment to decide what we will focus on, for now, and what we will ignore or leave for another time. There is no right way to make this determination.

Nothing much can be accomplished without establishing a plan consisting of goals, objectives to meet those goals, priorities regarding the order of handling, and a schedule for tackling the implementation of our plan. The hardest part is getting started. Completion is a matter of doing whatever it takes to stay on course until results are achieved.

Self-Motivation/Desire to Know

If you know yourself, you know what motivates you. Let your desire to gain new knowledge be fueled by adding other motivators.

For example, if you enjoy meeting new interesting people, make a list of those who may hold keys to your quest and schedule some face-to-face interviews. If you enjoy using a computer, buy a dream machine that has the capability to advance your research or upgrade your existing system by adding specialized software or peripherals that can help to expand your cybernetic presence and potential.

If being impeccably organized is a motivator, buy a special bookcase or filing cabinet or add a new shelf to gather your working materials together.

If you want to get a better grasp of what motivates you, read Lesson One of Barbara Sher’s book Live the Life You Love (Dell Publishing, New York, 1996).

Clear, Unbiased Thought

Use a guided imagery CD or script to peruse and then empty the library shelves of your mind. Replace the ones you can’t live without. Restock the shelves in a new way. Change their order. Put some away in boxes. Burn a few.

Fresh thoughts are like fresh air; they make us feel healthy so that we can do the mental exercises that will keep us healthy. This does not mean being credulous, just open to the full range of possibilities. Clear thinking allows our minds to function quickly and accurately, facilitating concise and potent outputs. Be alert to any tendency to make hasty assumptions.

If you get stuck, don’t waste time feeling frustrated. Take a break, empty your mind, rephrase your question and move on.

Take a moment to send me your thoughts on Artful Questioning. I look forward to hearing from you at:


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