Lessons from Mom: Asking the Right Questions

Lessons from Mom: Asking the Right Questions August 19, 2016

When I was a little boy, Mom would read books to me. Even when I learned to read, the sound of her voice was better and so she kept reading to the family until I left home. After she read, she would talk with us about what we had heard and ask us questions and so during the reading we would wonder about the book. Mom helped us see that a book was not just a static text, but an interaction with our minds. 

Education begins in wonder.

If we do not wonder about what is true, good, and beautiful, then we will not learn.

When educators focus on new programs, grand plans, or gigantic schemes, they miss the heart of education: wonder. We must do what Mom did for us: create a space where wonder was encouraged. I never recall Mom saying any question was bad and she would challenge any idea. One Saturday, she spent the whole day dissecting my lazy defense of the Union in the Civil War. She was not “pro-Confederate,” but she did not like my refusal to consider how good men like Robert E. Lee could have chosen badly.

I was being shallow and Mom would not allow it. She forced me to wonder if the Union was right, I did, and it made me better. I still think the Union was closer to the truth, but not in the shallow “good guys” and “bad guys” way I had adopted.

Mom taught me to ask the right questions.

She used three basic techniques:

Mom refused to let comfortable lies or myths remain.

Lincoln had views (especially early in his career) that were racist. Mom forced me to see them. She pointed out the abuse of child labor in Northern factories. Mom wanted my views to be based on the truth so even when she agreed with my conclusions, she would push on my reasons.

Mom let us keep going until we “got to the bottom of it.” 

God bless my poor Mom with her opinionated son. She would spend her entire day dialoging with me until we had gotten “to the bottom” of the topic. We knew that if we kept thinking, challenging, fencing . . . that we would find the truth. We often did, but then next Saturday I might have more questions. This was always acceptable.

Poor Dad had to put up with our discussions . . .

Mom made the entire discussion meaningful and joy filled.

I knew that if we just pressed on that we would learn and that our opinions would be honed. I could say tough things, but as long as I was not nasty and was respectful, then all was well. Mom impressed on me this key fact: the first person to lose his or her temper lost. Why? Not because we were debating (though it was not good in a debate), but because you could not find the truth when mad.

Anger and nastiness shut down dialog.

We would laugh as often as we would cry. . . and we did both during discussions. We weren’t talking for the sake of being smart, but because we wanted to know the truth. Truth mattered.

Mom was right: truth does matter. We had many hurting people live with us, delightful people, and the one thing Mom asked from all was truth. I had a dad who never told a lie and a mom intent on finding the truth . . . whatever the cost. When she asked us questions about the Bible or another book, they were meaningful.

Mom taught us to follow the truth wherever it led. She was not so much against the phonies and frauds that infect Christian celebrity culture as she was for honesty, following the truth wherever it led, and mercy. You could do the wrong thing with Mom, own it, make restitution, and move on.

To the end of my days, wonder will govern my life . . . a wonder that cannot stop until I find the truth, with integrity, and full of joy. I am not there yet, Mom. We should talk this weekend!

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