I wrote a blog recently on questions versus answers. In it I professed my love for questions rather than answers. And I’m happy to report that this love affair is still going strong. Recently I’ve been thinking about responsibility and how it relates to our own realities. There’s a link.
I am very good at taking responsibility for things. My friends and family would probably list ‘responsible’ as one of the traits that describes me. Although as I’ve lived more and experienced much, I have realised I really shouldn’t be taking responsibility, I should just have it. Having responsibility is about being responsible for your own life situation. Taking responsibility is about becoming responsible for someone else’s life situation.
They may have a past they need to deal with in the present. This might effect your life situation in some way also, in that they might come to you for help. I have come to realise it is not my responsibility to sort out another’s life situation for them. It is their own responsibility. If I am in a position to help then of course, I will do all I can, though I will also not take responsibility for its resolution.
This then led me to think about questions. When you’ve spent time explaining a concept or an idea to someone and they then ask questions, we often feel responsible for having the answers. And in the situations when we don’t have answers, we panic and wonder what is missing within us.
My recent realisation is this. Those questions are not my questions. They are their questions. I shouldn’t take responsibility for their question, but provide the space for them to connect with the answer they are seeking. The responsibility I have is not in providing them with an answer, but in providing the conditions for them to find it themselves. In doing so, setting up the ability for them to craft their own understanding.
I found this very liberating. Certain pieces of knowledge are not relevant to me, though may be profoundly important to someone who is asking for it. Because it is irrelevant to me, it is highly likely that I don’t have the answer they seek. Though I probably do have the ability to help them find it.
This is a nuanced thought. If someone asks you the time, I think it is completely appropriate to give them the answer and perhaps a bit odd for you to say, “how can I help you find the answer yourself?” when a watch rests comfortably on your wrist. In a situation where you are sharing a new concept and the questions you receive are specific to the context of the asker, like “How does this fit into my processes?”, perhaps the best stance to take is to commit to helping them find the answer, rather than taking responsibility for their question and giving them an answer directly.