Thursday, 1 December 2011

Tough questions

Asking tough questions isn't necessarily an indication of aggression... often they can be an expression of love.

Today I've heard, and asked, some tough questions. In the context of teaching, in terms of research and scholarship, and on a personal level.

Sitting around with a group of people at the Aboriginal Studies lounge tonite, discussing a particular book (yes - a geeks book club of sorts!), we realised that we were all asking hard questions of the book, and yet we all appreciated and valued the book for what it was doing. Rather than criticising the book's gaps in a way that rubbished the book (or the writer), we found ourselves identifying the gaps in order to think more and better about the issues the book raised. The book - as one person in the group said - opened space, including the space for us to have a conversation about its very topic. This is a good thing - A Good Thing, even - and is not at all the same as saying the book is not doing important work. Indeed, we agreed, our decision to read the book carefully and pitch all of these questions and identify its weaknesses as well as its strengths was a demonstration of our support of the book! (All the arguements I've had with people who get grumpy with me for 'killing' a movie by wanting to pull it apart and discuss it for ages after...) If we hadn't thought the book was worth engaging with we wouldn't have cared enough about it to come up with the tough questions.

This doesn't always carry over easily into personal questions or teaching... it's one thing to ask tough questions of a book but quite another to ask tough questions of a person, especially when that person is standing in front of you. And... it's also not easy to have tough questions asked of you either. But this isn't the same as saying tough questions aren't a lovely, generous, affirming thing... quite the reverse: sometimes, when someone has the courage, compassion and aroha to ask you a tough question, you're being given a real gift.

That's what I reckon anyway :)

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