How to ask big questions

When my husband was active duty in the Air Force, he had a creative commander who decided not to call the weekly staff meeting the weekly staff meeting. Instead, he called it The How Goes It.

A grammatical nightmare of a sentence, I know, but I like the image this conjures. Yes, it was still a staff meeting and yes, staff members still had to brief the commander (military members always brief, never explain or tell) on the week’s events. But How Goes It seemed to imply you could add what It meant to you personally. If all the commander wanted to know was the status of this and that, he could have called it What Goes It instead (which I know grammatically sounds far worse). But “how” invites interpretation, reflection, consideration. Like this:

Commander: How goes the widget line, captain?
Captain: It goes very well, sir!

Compare that with this:
Commander: What goes the widget line, captain?
Captain: We’ve counted 500, sir.

You would never know if that was good or bad. “How” invites the use of an adjective. Adjectives color our world with meaning. “What” asks only for a list or a number or an identifier. Meaning is always deeper than definition. I mean, you can define chocolate (i.e. what is chocolate? a brown confection made from cocoa beans) Or you can give chocolate meaning by asking how. “How is chocolate?” doesn’t sound like a nicely worded sentence, but I like it better. I can give meaning to chocolate better when I begin with the awkward “how” than the stiff “what.”

I’m thinking I need to ask myself more”how” questions. The last few months I have felt like I am at a crossroads of sorts. Usually when I have to decide which road to take, I ask myself what will happen if I go this way, what will happen if I go that way? Maybe I should be asking how questions. Like how will I be remembered if I go this way? How will I change? How will I grow? How much will I learn? How little? How will this fulfill my purpose? How will it hinder it? How will it honor my Creator? How did I get to this place of decision? How will I look at the next crossroads if I choose this way? If I choose that? How much will it cost me? How much am I willing to pay?

I was a reporter at a newspaper years ago. I know the importance of “what” questions. I know all the W questions are supposed to come first, and then the H question. But perhaps during times of self-reflection, it’s okay to begin with H. If what I am looking for is meaning rather than information, then maybe it’s not only okay to start with H, but the smarter choice. It doesn’t take me long to ask myself what in the world I am doing. But it sure seems like a deeper queston to ask myself how I am doing it.

‘Know what I mean?

Oops. Make that, “How what I mean?”

Author: Susan

This post has 1 Comment

  1. Tami Boesiger on July 12, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    Very interesting idea, Susan, and a little sneakier than my favorite, “What do you think about that?”. I LIKE IT!

    HOW did you come up with it?

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