There is a conversation I had…gosh probably a year or two ago now…that has played on my mind ever since.
Someone was telling me about a child they know who was being taught by their parent to ask questions, particularly of teachers. They were encouraged not to just blindly accept authority but to think critically and question when something seemed incorrect or unfair or didn’t make sense, rather than simply believing everything adults tell them and ‘doing as they are told’.
I thought this was bloody wonderful…and said so.
The person who was telling me the story was doing so because they thought it was terrible, and that children should be taught to ‘behave’ and ‘be obedient’, especially at school. When I explained why I thought it was a much better idea that children are taught to ask questions, she said “well yes…but don’t you want the teachers to like them?”
The last, last, last very freaken last thing this world needs is one more person who blindly believes what they are told by authority figures, thinks that it’s better to be liked than to be honest, and that if you do speak up and ask questions and challenge authority that people won’t like you.
I say this as someone who still struggles daily with the second and third parts. And I know I’m a very long way from alone.
Because I, like many many others, was taught to listen to adults, to do as I was told, by a society that was taught the same before me. I learnt that authority figures – that is the people who have power over us because we give it to them – such as teachers, doctors, police, and in general most adults, know better than I do so I ought to be quiet and listen to them. For some reason most of us know not to apply this blind trust to politicians and instead always question their motives and whether what they are telling us is the truth….it’s so often not…but this logic tends not to flow into other areas. To, I believe, the great detriment of society and the individual.
I think this is a big part of the reason that so many times people don’t ask questions. Simply because we were taught not to. We were taught to make authority figures….into authority figures, instead of realising that they are simply people with a different skill set, some different information and different opinions, that may or may not be true or that we may or may not believe or agree with.
It took until my very late 20’s for me to start asking real questions. After my dad died I started asking questions about grief, what I was being told, what I had believed about it, and whether it might not all be true. I started questioning everything I’d learnt about mental health (I worked in the industry at the time) and depression (I was a long-time ‘sufferer’ at that point). This led me to question more generally life – how’re we’re ‘supposed’ to live (married, two kids, a dog, big mortgage, white picket fence, ‘good’ job you probably don’t love), trauma, family, money, religion, spirituality – you name it. When I became pregnant I questioned the whole birth industry and did a ton of reading. And now with my daughter I ask questions every day about parenting, her health and wellbeing, education, etc. The opinions I hold today are a world away from the things I believed and accepted as true a decade ago.
I’ll be honest, it can be exhausting. There is something a bit relaxing, maybe just less time-consuming, about just going with the status quo, following the herd, believing what you’re told, living a socially acceptable life (blue pill anybody?)….but I can’t describe how much happier, more empowered, fulfilled, centred, inspired, certain, grateful, connected, full (as opposed to the emptiness I use to feel) I feel than I ever did when I was just going with what society did and said.
Now a lot of people don’t like it, and don’t like you, when you ask questions. Some authority figures don’t like when you question their authority. Some people don’t like it when you rock the boat. And some people people don’t like it when you don’t fall in line and live an expected life, especially if that’s what they are doing.
I’ve encountered people who don’t like that I question, don’t like the questions I ask, and don’t like me full stop for doing it.
Don’t get me wrong – I do find that hard. Really really hard. It challenges me every day. And more often than not I keep my mouth shut, depending on who I’m talking to, to save rocking the boat. Especially since I got back to NZ where I don’t have the community I was used to having around me. I regularly nod along to conversations and ideas I completely disagree with because I don’t want to argue or, god forbid, be disliked for my weird, wacky, or ‘alternative’ views. This is something I’m working on constantly because, frankly, it sucks and I’m not being true to myself at all. But despite struggling with it like this I WILL NOT quit and fall in line. Because some other people may not like it (though plenty will, and some love it) but I like myself and my life so much more for it.
Also, having a child now, I am so aware of the example I set for my daughter.
So…ask questions. Explore. Don’t just trust and take everything on blind faith and accept this is ‘the way it is’.
Don’t worry about being disliked. Or do worry…but don’t let it stop you.
Ask questions about grief.
Ask questions about death.
Ask questions about funerals.
Ask questions about schools, education, and tests.
Ask questions about doctors, hospitals, and medicines.
Ask questions about relationships, sex, and sexuality.
Ask questions about what life is ‘meant’ to look like.
Ask questions about the way your country is run, the way this world is run.
Question everything you learnt about life growing up. Because maybe a little of it….or a bunch of it…or all of it….wasn’t really true.
Don’t just sit nicely in the box you’ve been placed in, believing whatever you’ve been told by an ‘authority’. (And don’t teach your kids to either!)
Ask and ask and ask….until you get your answer.
Dig and dig and dig…until you find the truth.
Seek and seek and seek…until you find what you’re looking for.