Skip to content

The Gift of Good Questions

When was the last time someone asked you an honest, open question — one that invited you to reflect more deeply on your own life, asked by a person who did not want to advise you or “fix” you but “hear you into speech,” deeper and deeper speech?

For most of us, that’s a rare experience.

In our culture, we tend to ask each other questions that are “fixes” or advice in disguise. “Have you thought about seeing a therapist?” is not an honest, open question!

But when we share a problem with someone who wants to listen and knows how to ask honest, open questions — such as, “Have you had a problem like this before? If so, what did you learn then that might help you now?” — something in us comes alive. Now we have a chance to learn from our own inner teacher, to tap into own inner wisdom.

That’s why I love Denise Levertov’s “A Gift.” It’s a poem that celebrates the power of good questions to evoke that which is deepest and truest in us. As Levertov says, “Yes, perhaps/this gift [of questions] is your answer.”

Try it today with someone you care for: a family member, a friend, a colleague, an elder. I’ve never known a person who did not feel honored by the fact that someone cares for them enough to ask a meaningful question — and then listen deeply and well to whatever they have to say.

A Gift
by Denise Levertov

Just when you seem to yourself
nothing but a flimsy web
of questions, you are given
the questions of others to hold
in the emptiness of your hands …

(Excerpted from Sands of the Well. Read the full poem here.)

Share your reflection