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Searching for Wise Questions

The article, Searching for Wise Questions, by Laura Chasin was published September 2011 and discusses how the way questions are framed can dramatically shape the answer. Written with the September 11, 2001 attacks in mind, the article offers opportunities to frame questions in a way that heal rather than divide.

Below is an excerpt from the article and the full piece can be found on Public Conversations Project’s website here.

From the article…

My experience conducting dialogues among those who have fierce differences about issues such as abortion and homosexuality has made me aware that questions have impact even before they are answered. They can close a door or turn on a light. They can intensify conflict or deepen mutual understanding. Asking the right questions now could build bridges across old divides and prevent the digging of new trenches at a time when we can ill afford further damage to our national landscape.

Questions have unsung power. They focus our attention: “What was your first reaction?” They call upon one dimension of us rather than another: “How are you trying to reassure your children?” They can point us toward a path of understanding and action: “Are there legitimate reasons for people to hate this country?”

Every question harbors an assumption that is often hidden. “How can we get even?” states more than it asks. By answering a question, most of us unwittingly support its hidden assumptions.

Since the terrible destruction of September 11, we have been barraged by questions of all kinds. Questions that seek facts or reassurance. Dread-filled questions that shuffle, half formed, through the dark hallways of our minds: “Why?” and “What will become of us now?”

What are the right questions for these harrowing times? To me, they are questions that promote recovery, minimize risks, and strengthen us for the marathon that lies ahead. They are questions that can galvanize our loyalty to our precious, if flawed, nation — without accelerating a worldwide spiral of violence that becomes even more catastrophic than the events of September 11.

We can notice the impact on ourselves and others of the questions we hear or read. We can be thoughtful about the purposes of the questions we ask. We can avoid using rhetorical questions. We can decline to answer questions likely to steer talk in destructive directions.

About Public Conversations Project
PCP_logoPCP fosters constructive conversation where there is conflict driven by differences in identity, beliefs, and values. We work locally, nationally, and globally to provide dialogue facilitation, training, consultation, and coaching. We help groups reduce stereotyping and polarization while deepening trust and collaboration and strengthening communities. At the core of many of today’s most complex social problems is a breakdown in relationships that leads to mistrust, gridlock, and fractured communities. Public Conversations’ method addresses the heart of this breakdown: we work to shift relationships, building the communication skills and trust needed to make action possible and collaboration sustainable. Since our founding in 1989, Public Conversations’ practitioners have worked on a broad range of issues, including same-sex marriage, immigration, abortion, diversity, guns, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We have also contributed to peace-building efforts in several conflict-torn regions overseas. In situations where a breakdown in trust, relationships, and constructive communication is part of the problem, PCP offers a solution. Follow on Twitter: @pconversations.

Resource Link: www.publicconversations.org/resource/searching-wise-questions

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