“How are you today?”
“How should I be?”
Jews love questions! A child comes home from school, and his mother asks, “What did you learn today?” A Jewish child comes home from school, and her parent says,” Did you ask any good questions today?”
Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first fifty five minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I knew the proper question I could solve the problem in less than five minutes. Many people are looking for answers and not asking the wisest questions.”
Asking questions opens us up to possibilities and makes room for new options. The right questions can create innovative solutions because they look for answers that exist outside our current experience or sphere of knowledge.
Van Phillips lost the lower part of his leg in a boating accident. After being fitted with what he called “a pink foot on a steel bar,” he wondered why, if we could put a man on the moon, we couldn’t come up with a better prosthetic. Over the years, his constant questioning led him to look outside the world of prosthetics: the movement of a cheetah, his father’s flexible Chinese blade. This led him to ultimately develop the prosthetic we all recognize as the curved blade allowing amputees to walk and run more naturally. Most innovators like Phillips go through a series of questions until they get to the solution they desire. The questions they ask force them to think in innovative ways: “Why” questions allow us to confront a problem and articulate the challenge: why does this situation exist, or why has no one (or I) considered other possibilities? “What if” questions help us understand our present reality: what if I look at this issue from a different perspective? And “how” questions encourage us to turn speculation into reality: how can I do this?
Perhaps as we continually confront issues in our lives, we too can use this process of questioning to find innovative answers that will help us move into the next chapter of our lives.
This month’s JLife is devoted to those have moved into new chapters of their lives. While we present services and programs that are available for seniors in our community, we also look at how many are choosing to use their wisdom and experience in new ways. Once retired, they face the challenge of what to do with the years ahead. We spoke with a few members of our community who shared how they answered the question, “What now?”
As Einstein also said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
Florence L Dann, a fourth-year rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in L.A., has been a contributing writer to JLife Magazine since 2004. She served as the Vice President of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation West Coast and currently teaches English as Second Language to adults.