Despite the fact that we are all pretty familiar with the famous Chinese proverb, “He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever”; the truth is that we rarely — if at all! — ask questions. In fact, I am fairly certain that most of you (including me, by the way), who are reading this article have rarely raised your hand in class (be it in school or college) to ask a question. If you plead mea culpa, do read ahead…
What’s surprising is that we were born curious (and you know it’s true if you have ever encountered a walking-talking four-year-old…especially girls). In fact, according to a study in Britain, girls aged four are the most curious, asking an incredible 390 questions per day – averaging a question every 1 minute 56 seconds of their waking day. In fact, if that doesn’t stump you speechless, how about this: ‘A mother gets asked around 1,05,120 questions a year by their children’. That’s right – one lakh five thousand one hundred and twenty questions a year! Whoa!
Of course, the question then becomes: if we were born with the “inquisitive” gene, what killed it?!? The answer, as with everything else, lies with socialisation, that is…the way we were raised in the society. There are three factors that need to be factored in if we were to answer that particular question.
The first and the foremost influencer – invariably – is the mother herself (and you can’t really blame her for she is often overwhelmed by the volley of insane and inane questions, especially considering that she is forever toiling in the kitchen and the house). Sadly, the harangued mother, who simply wishes for some peace and quiet, teaches her child it is not polite to ask so many questions.
In fact, even Hollywood, in its 2003 HBO made-for-television motion picture ‘My House in Umbria’ attested to this fact, where a mother reprimands her 8-year-old girl (who is busy asking Maggie Smith, who plays an eccentric British romance novelist, a flurry of questions), “Shh…stop asking so many questions. It’s not polite.” Of course once rebuffed, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that the child will be less likely to interject with another question in the future.
The second influencer that fans our hesitation are the very people we interact with. When people keep on repeating phrases like – “curiosity killed the cat”, “don’t ask, don’t tell”, “ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies”, “talk less, listen more”, etc. – they invariably are telling us to ‘Shut up’! In fact, if my memory serves me right, the same reproach played out on the immensely popular American television sitcom, FRIENDS. In Season 8 Episode 4 to be particular, the newly-weds (Monica and Chandler) wonder why Brad and Jenny gave them their fake number. While Monica attributes it to Chandler’s jokes, Chandler chides her and points out it was her “voluminous” questions, which was tantamount to “flying with The Riddler”…Now, need I say more?!?
The third and probably the strongest influencer is the self-imposed critic. Ever since we learnt how to walk and talk, we have been looking for acceptance…acceptance from our family, our friends, our peers, and our society. Thus, the reason we choose to stay mum is because we are afraid of what the others are going to think of us, i.e. the impression we will make. In fact, we are so afraid of “appearing” foolish that we foolishly vote in favour of “becoming” one. It’s foolish, really!