What’s the dumbest thing you’ve said in your life?
I’ve said a lot of dumb things over the course of my mine. One of the dumbest was in a conversation with my father as we were driving to a college visit.
“I don’t even know why I need to go to college. I’m gonna be an evangelist and travel all over the world preaching. I mean, the disciples didn’t go to college, why should I? Besides, I’ve already got all the answers and just need to start telling people.”
My father was very gracious. You see, he has a Harvard University graduate degree hanging on his wall and could have easily crushed me, but he didn’t. Instead he changed my life with a simple sentence….
“You know Jōn, life isn’t about having all the right answers but knowing the right questions.”
If we’re honest with ourselves, each of us could point to moments throughout our daily lives where embodying this would serve ourselves and others well — especially in the societal climate we find ourselves in today.
Why? Because as Americans we are addicted to telling people what to do.
One of my favorite scholars is Edgar Schein, a business consultant, MIT professor and globally-renowned author who spent over 30 years observing and shaping human interactions in organizations all around the world. After all his years of experience he has come to the conclusion that American culture over-values “telling,” and that “The missing ingredients in most conversations are curiosity and willingness to ask questions to which we do not already know the answer” (from Humble Inquiry).
And where has all this telling gotten us?
The products of lives missing these key ingredients of curiosity and inquiry litter our society in plain sight. Our news, social media feeds and conversations are bloated with advice on how others should think and act, devoid of any shred of humility, leaving the people of this country divided along so many lines that it’s impossible to make sense of anymore.
So how might Christians respond to this societal epidemic? Start asking the right questions.
1. Ask the Holy Spirit for help.
As Christ followers, we have access to help anytime we are in need (Hebrews 4:16). We need help from the Holy Spirit as we self-reflect and assess whether we are taking James’ mandate to us as seriously as God is when he says, “You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry… If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless” (James 1:19; 26).
What would happen if we listened to the Holy Spirit reveal to us when and why we’re too quick to tell people what to do and the steps necessary to change?
2. Ask others about their stories.
As Christ followers, we are called to reflect the humility of Jesus in our interactions with everyone we encounter (Phil. 2:1–11). In today’s “telling” society, what’s more emblematic of humility than taking an interest in someone else’s life story?
C.S. Lewis put it best when he said, “Humility is not thinking less of oneself but thinking of oneself less.”
What would happen if we stopped thinking about ourselves and elevated others?
3. Ask people what they think about Jesus.
I wonder what would happen if we stopped “telling” people about Jesus and instead asked them what they thought about him. How would our relationships change if we took the time to understand people’s stories and how the Gospel uniquely applies to their lives, instead of providing oversimplified generalizations?
What if we got out of the way, stopped distracting with peripherals and simply let people make a decision about Jesus?
So here’s the question for all of us: in a society addicted to telling, what would our lives look like if we started asking the right questions?