To question or to answer, that is the question

A good friend of mine sent me a piece of comic strip.

For you who cannot read through all of it, it is a conversation between two men, one who is collecting “questions” and the other “answers.” The two finds each other fascinating, but as the conversation goes, they find mostly differences that lie between them, ending up in parting their ways.

While the miscommunication definitely mimicked real life and I praise the cartoonist for refusing to settle easily, I was also disappointed—I so wanted to see them interact profoundly and patiently until they really “see” each other. Instead they resorted into their own shells, and the “Questioner” and “Answerer” would stay sticking to their own side of the equation.

Is a “question” and an “answer” really separate? As in any case with something that has opposite pairs, one cannot exist without the other: left/right, good/bad, soft/hard, North/South. To collect only “questions” or “answers” is to collect half shells. A shell is beautiful nonetheless, but it completely lacks the life form that is created internally when the two halves meet each other.

The life between two shells looks nothing like the shell itself, but it has the power to form everything, including the shell itself. Likewise, when I find an “answer” to a particular “question,” something opens up inside me to give way to an unexpected direction in my life. Sometimes it is a “closure” that frees me from the question (Why didn’t we work well?). Sometimes it is an invitation to a deeper level (How does stinky tofu taste like?). Either way, what matters isn’t the question or the answer: it is what happens beyond them.

Therefore, does playing with only “question” or “answer” matter? Or dare I say—does the “question/answer” pair matter in the end? What we want is what happens AFTER the question/answer pair has been formed. Therefore, finding an answer isn’t the last step: it is only the beginning.

Collecting only questions or answers might be similar to…collecting stamps? (I know, it is offensive…I used to collect them too. There, I said it.) A stamp is only useful when accompanied by a letter, and the real adventure happens only after the letter is read by someone…

Of course, finding an “answer” isn’t easy. The more interesting a question is, the harder it becomes to find an answer. To answer “Why am I (un)happy?” takes one to search for his lost memory buried in his vast sea of unconsciousness. A quantum physicist needs to tackle every question with extra effort, because the “answer” often goes against his most trusted reviewer: his gut feeling.

Yet still, the real deal only starts to roll out after the “question” and the “answer” meet each other. Is it worth spending a long time searching for an “answer” and not having time to enjoy its fruit?

I am tempted to treat the “questions” and “answers” lighter than I used to. An answer is no more my soul mate. It is a date, a friend, or even an acquaintance. A question pops up, I say Hi to the nearest answer that might or might not be correct, live with it until I find a better answer.

Yes, it is frivolous and uncommitted and so much “it depends.” My impatience might result in never having the right answer. But just as we only know if a beautiful jacket suits us or not by wearing it, I also think the only way to “know” if an answer is correct or not is to live with it. Our reality gives us the necessary feedback along the way to determine the temporary answer’s authenticity.

Therefore, when I have a question, I might just make up an answer on the spot, and go with it, and then replace it as I go along. I might be replacing my “answer” 10 times by the end of the day, but it just gets better, and it is not boring, to say the least. And treating a “question” or an “answer” as an independent item? Forgettaboutit.

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  • Nick H

    That’s why one shouldn’t take most people too seriously when it comes to their opinions and personal thoughts, and definitely not as the final word.

    • Isao

      I am now thinking the key might be to always access ourselves, to not identify ourselves with what others think/say. Easier said than done…

      • Nick H

        Yes. For better or worse, being labelled the weird/smart/different kid from an early age only cemented those tendencies, (and as others you don’t relate to go off to drink in a bar, you stay home and develop yourself, thus widening the rift n+1 times).
        Recently a few different high level aikido teachers in my style drove the point through: be one. It is not about winning or losing, it is about moving together, mind-body, everything, in alignment. If you try to move incorrectly, not as a single unit, even if you throw/push the other person, you are not improving your technique, you are not practicing properly–you are cheating yourself. Even if you “lose” today, practicing moving as one (aka united with/as yourself) you will get stronger and stronger and eventually win over that situation/person (by not fighting yourself). This is a beautiful and powerful idea, to me, and a good reminder.

  • Ray @ GF8D STi Ver.3

    I don’t think answers and questions exist separately. It is always paired. The answer is the present self which anchors us onto now. The question is a vector we project to the future and it always drags us a bit into that direction. So there is no way to collect questions or answers in this sense but a trace of answers inching around with the pull of questions.

    • Isao

      I see. Reading your comment made me think that maybe for me, the question is what anchors me to the present and the answer is what points me to the unknown future – the small clue to “try things out and see.” The question remains the same (or gets clearer) and the answer always changes. How frivolous of me.

      • Ray @ GF8D STi Ver.3

        I am often described as a juggernaut which crushing its way through ;)