Questioning

Great Questioners: Socrates, Frankl, Jesus and Little Children

This was the heading of the conference topic given by Dr.Paul Welter.

The funniest thing is the truth, he said. (A good book he recommended is called Truth in Comedy)

A kid sees pictures of people on the most wanted list and says “Why didn’t you hold on to them when you took their picture?” Then there was the kid who, when his father says “Grow up!” answers “But all of my friends are my age!”

There is great power to stories. To collect stories he asks people what they’ve learned from children. We teach children but we don’t learn from them.

There was one case of a client who hit his girlfriend all the time. Dr. Welter’s response to this was to tell this person the story of Billy Budd who defended the truth rather than himself and said “If I could have spoken I wouldn’t have hit him.” The client said that his father used to hit him when he was five years old whenever he would tell the truth. Dr. Welter asked his client, “When did you lose your voice and have to hit?”

This is an example of a shocker question that the person doesn’t expect and gets him thinking.

Listening and questioning together with surprise causes a momentary blindness, so in that second or two it immobilizes resistance and you can ask the person a question. The idea is not to distract people but give them something more meaningful to think of.

He gave us an exercise to do in pairs. If you had a very close friend who smoked and you wanted him or her to stop, what would you ask the person that would get them to stop smoking?

Usually people ask the wrong kinds of questions. You can’t tell people what they already know, you can’t interrogate and you can’t criticize.

In other words explanations are ineffective. You have to provide experiences.

You have to provide an experience (through your question) that allows them to discover the truth for themselves. What people need is not an explanation but an experience.

Socrates was too lengthy. Socrates is obsolete because one of his basic premises was wrong, namely that people do wrong because they’re uninformed. It’s not for lack of information that people steal.

The question he would ask the smoker is: Is it true that when you started smoking you took out a health mortgage?

Then he spoke briefly about arrogance and happiness and other states that we can observe.

• All arrogance comes from comparison. To be humble is to not compare. The snake in the Garden of Eden said you’ll be like God. Comparison leads to competition and that leads to criticism. A critical spirit takes away our joy and happiness.
• Happiness also makes us more intelligent and more magnetic. (There are six basic emotions: love, joy, surprise, anger, guilt and fear.) To measure this magnetism we might ask: “On a continuum of pain to be endured to fun to live with, how would a family member who knows you best rate you?”
• Contempt is a spiritual problem. The person says “I’m on a different moral level and I can judge.” People with contempt knew the truth and weren’t doing it.
• Don’t worry – You won’t add an hour to your life by worrying.

Look at your life as being on a landing halfway up the stairs…What have you learned from birth until now that will make the second half of the flight easier and more meaningful?

I was impressed with Dr. Welter as a person who does not just talk about learning from children but really set out to seriously do it.

I also felt I could learn a tremendous amount from his ability to ask the kind of question that takes the person off guard and allows him to discover something for himself. It’s not easy to figure out the right question to ask. I guess a good start is what not to do. Don’t give the person information he already has. Don’t interrogate. Don’t criticize. And then I guess I would think of a question that would give him food for thought, something he would not have a ready answer for.

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