Minute #621: Good Question

Jeff loved to ask questions. It was rare for someone to run into him and not be asked a trivia question about a little-known, insignificant fact. Once the person “gave up,” Jeff would say: “I can’t believe someone who’s supposed to be so smart didn’t know that!”

Robert also asked questions, but they were of a different ilk. He might say: “How could someone like you do such a thing?” His query was really a comment indicating displeasure with the other person’s behavior.

Sarah occasionally asked questions such as: “Do you remember when you couldn’t keep up with the class and you were sent to a resource room for tutoring?” Such comments are painful reminders of things a listener would prefer to forget.

A true question is an honest attempt to find out information or request assistance. But pain-causing words are sometimes disguised as queries. The Shulchan Aruch categorizes “hurtful” inquiries as onaat devarim — sin-level hurtful speech (Choshen Mishpat 228:4). Those who ask hurtful questions may not be the majority, but they’re all around us.

How you phrase a thought will determine your statement’s effect on a listener. A question can be a positive, helpful statement. “How can I be of assistance?” or “How come I didn’t think of that?” and “Did you ever try to do it this way?” sound like questions, but they are compliments or offers of help and advice.

When you ask someone a question, stop and think what kind of question you are posing. Learn to eliminate the hurtful query and offer the helpful one instead.

One More Second: Another Thought for the Day

…[T]he righteous and the wicked both use their sense of sight, but for different purposes.

Tzaddikim elevate themselves with their eyes, as it says (Bereishit 22:4): “And Avraham lifted his eyes and saw the place from afar”…But wicked people fall due to their eyes, as it says (Bereishit 13:10): “…and Lot lifted his eyes and he saw the entire plain of Jordan.” This is Sodom. He left Avraham and went to Sodom in order to follow after their bad deeds. (Rabbi Zvi Miller, Windows of the Soul, p. 144)