On Misleading Questions

I have often said the only stupid questions are the questions we don’t ask. Does that mean all questions are worthy of answers? Our natural instinct is to assert, “Yes!”

However that isn’t true, is it?

There are definitely questions not worthy of answers.  Rhetorical questions not only do not require answers, but providing an answer often lessens the power of the question. Rhetorical questions are intended to invoke thought, not speech.

But this post isn’t about rhetorical questions, it is about actual questions that are not worthy of answers.  Specifically, it is about questions that mislead.

What is a misleading question?  A misleading question is deliberately framed in order to ensure the only valid answer is the one desired. A misleading question is one framed to compel an incomplete answer that points toward the goal of the person doing the asking.

We are asked misleading questions all the time, and we are trained to respond.  Indeed when we don’t respond in the way these irrelevant, and ultimately pointless, questions demand we often throw the conversation into complete disarray.  Personally, I dislike misleading questions almost as much as I abhor the statement of opinion as though it is fact.  This dislike ensures I go out of my way to cause disarray.

“How are you?” When asked in our day-to-day work life, this is a misleading question.  The person asking is not interested in our well-being, they don’t want to know, yet they expect us to obey social conventions by answering with some banality like, “I’m fine thanks, and you?”  The only “polite” way to answer this question is by asserting we are well.  If there is only one acceptable answer to the question, then the question is pointless and more than that, it is misleading.

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill?  Perhaps, however I’m growing tired of living in a world full of people who don’t care.  So I rebel.  When people ask me banal questions in which they very obviously have absolutely no interest in my answer, I assume they are sincere and that they actually care. I answer their question honestly, but in a fashion that requires them to stop and think about my answer.  I have a variety of responses to the “How are you” question, but I have two favorites.

If I am pleased to see the person, I answer “All the better for seeing you, and how are you?”  There is no mistruth in that answer. I am not burdening them with how I actually feel, I’m not embarking on an extended diatribe on how poorly I slept, or how appalling I find the state of our world. I’m indicating my pleasure at seeing them, while giving them a chance to tell me how they really feel.  It is surprising how often they respond by actually telling me.  It is also surprising how much they seem to enjoy having an opportunity to tell the truth.  A single good minute can indeed make for a better day.

And then there are the people I am not pleased to see.  It would be impolite to answer truthfully, indeed doing so might well be considered an unnecessary truth. Unfortunately, since it is considered rude to ignore the question I answer, truthfully, “I am alive, which as far as I know is better than being dead, but only time will tell.”  Most often they simply nod as though they actually heard my answer, then sashay into whatever it is they really want to talk about.  However, to those paying attention my answer shocks them out of their comfort zone and forces them to think of some appropriate way to respond.  This usually entails them frowning as they try and figure out if I have just insulted them, which I haven’t. Their frown is either followed by a quick shake of the head as they discard their suspicion, or a pursing of their lips as they consider whether being dead might actually be better than being in their company. They seldom tell me what they really think, but they don’t need to as I’ve already seen it all in their facial responses.  Finally, they start talking about what they really want to talk about.

What is the point of all this?  There is more than one point.  If you have no interest in how someone feels, then don’t ask them. If you don’t care, then don’t pretend you do.  When you ask banal questions, you’ll sometimes get honest answers.  Don’t pretend to be interested if you aren’t. In other words, if all you want to do is get down to business, then open the conversation with, “Let’s get down to business.”

And now, to the heart of misleading questions. The question of love.

Perhaps we should never ask the question, “Do you love me?”, for if there is ever a misleading question intended to extract the answer we desire, “Do you love me?” is that question. Even within an unsolicited proclamation of love lies an implicit plea for a response in kind.

So how do we show someone we love them, without framing our love in words that demand the response we desire?

The answer to the riddle dwells within the question. We show them our love and allow them the freedom to either see our demonstration of love, or to not notice it.

Yes, it is said that love is blind, but if the one we love is blind then will they ever see?

About C.G.Ayling

Musing misuser of words, lover of lyrical literature, author, occasional contrary thoughts. An honorable man’s name, in memoriam.
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