The Right Questions

Bee YourselfI grew up in the “Be Yourself” era of education. I remember an elementary classroom with a huge bee on the wall advising me to “bee myself” and encouraging my individuality. Every time our teacher approached me with her helpful smile and “bless your heart” tone of voice (Southern women, you know exactly what I mean) she would say, “Kellie, you need to print larger. Your printing is too small.”  I would look at that rebellious self-affirming bee and print even smaller.  So, if you’ve one of the many who suffered permanent eye strain reading my tiny little letters– blame the bee.

The wise soon learn there is a difference between self-efficacy and selfishness. The way we learn that distinction isn’t simply by discovering who we are, but by being challenged to cultivate good in the garden of our being. We might be able to become our “self” all alone, but we can only become our “best self” when challenged by those we respect, love and allow to teach us.

Questions have historically been the way we become our better selves.

“Thinking is not driven by answers, but by questions.”
The Critical Thinking Handbook, by Dr. Richard Paul

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
President John. F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address

“You study Talmud by asking questions.”
Rabbi Tvzi Freemon

“What does the fox say?”
fox say
Okay – so maybe that last one isn’t making any of us better….

The quest to better ourselves and our neighbors by questions creates more questions:

1. What are the right questions?
2. When do we ask them?
3. Whom should we ask?

To those questions – I have been given the gift of answers in the form of a baptism litany so profound it brought me to tears the first time I heard it.

One Sunday this summer an infant was baptized as part of the morning worship service at The Gayton Kirk Presbyterian Church. I’m reasonably new to the Kirk and never experienced a baptism there before. All churches who baptize (or dedicate) infants have the same basic formal questions for the parents and congregation – do you agree to support this child as a community? Do you accept responsibility for the child’s religious education?  And so on… But, the Kirk did something different.

The children of the church were all invited forward to sit in the front (like children’s moment) and the Pastor, who was holding the baby, sat down with them. She explained that we were a community and we are all responsible for the spiritual and personal care of this child. Then she said she had questions just for them. She asked them:

If you’re the playroom with Madison, will you share your toys and play with her?
If you see Madison in the hall and she doesn’t know where to go, will you help her?
If Madison is lonely or sad, will you hold her hand?
If Madison falls down, will you help her up?

And I knew, as surely as I know bacon was made for breakfast, that those are the right questions. In a world as compassion challenged as ours can be – we need someone to ask us – when we are 5, and 15, and 35, and 50, and 85 and again, again, again –

“If someone falls down, will you help that person up?”
“If someone is lonely or sad, will you hold that person’s hand?”
“If someone doesn’t know where to go, will you help that person?”
“If someone is in the playroom, will you share your toys?”

I want to be the person who answers those questions, and I want the answer to be “yes.” I want those questions to be the frame by which I understand what it means to truly “be myself.”  Maybe you, too.  If you see me lonely or sad, will you hold my hand?


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