Asking Questions

While I was living in South Africa, I spent 3 weeks being constant companions with a guy I had zero things in common with. I was a white American raised in a middle class home in the suburbs. He was a black South African Zulu, raised in poverty in a government-built township during Apartheid. He had spent all of his life living on the other side of this planet from me, immersed in a language, culture, lifestyle, and religion that was completely foreign to me. Communicating was difficult. One morning, desperate to find some common ground for discussion, I remember asking him what sports he liked. He said, “cricket.” I only knew cricket was a sport because you could select it as an option when building a stadium in Sim City 2000.

At some point I realized that if I just kept asking questions, then we could break down the communication barrier. If I ask he’ll have to answer, right? So, I asked about his family, his school, and his background. I felt like a broken record, but the more I asked the more I learned and we started to build some understanding.

I used to think that smart people didn’t ask questions. It sure seemed like that in school. But I was wrong. Smart people are the ones who ask questions the most.

I’m not the best at this… as an introvert, I feel a bit uncomfortable asking questions in many settings. But I’m working to improve. I’ve come to realize that the habit of asking questions provides compounding benefits to your knowledge and relationships for years to come.