“To have a conversation, ask a question first, then – listen” -Antonio Machado

I’m as guilty as anyone.  I love asking rhetorical questions.  Questions that are not questions.  Questions that are not interested in new information, new ideas, new anything, but used instead as a rhetorical mechanism.  An introduction to the persuasive nonsense I want to dump into your lap.

I’m as guilty as anyone.  I forget.  Who doesn’t?  I like to dress up my arguments in the frills and silk and curtsying politeness of a question.  They look innocent.  They look bashful and big-eyed, but just wait until they open their mouth.  Nasty buggers.  Dogs of the worst kind.  Hyenas really.  And the problem with hyenas is they’re just so damn hard to have a conversation with.

And it’s conversation that I miss.  But it’s my own fault as much as it is anyone else’s.  How to ask a genuine question?  How to ask without expectations, without judgement, without sifting out bad from good answers?

Maybe think of a question like a backpack.  Asking the question is like opening the bag.  And it’s like one of those magic bags that can hold entire households of stuff.  A never ending pit of a bag.  So you ask – you open the bag – and people put stuff in it.  And you let them.  That’s the idea.  The more you open the bag, the more stuff people can put in it.  And stuff is good.  Different stuff.  Some of it yours, most of it not.  Just stuff.  Cool stuff.  Intriguing stuff.  And you get to keep it all wrapped up in a bag on your back.  It’s not heavy.  Because it’s not stuff in the physical sense, but emotional stuff, idea stuff, the stuff people are made of on the inside of their insides.

We could call it “the good bag.”  But not for the sam reasons people call WWII “the good war.”  It’s a good bag because it contains good things.  Things from other people.  Things people have given you because you asked.  Things that are yours but not yours.  A good bag.

Imagine walking around town with this bag on your back and you see a person that reminds you of an item someone once placed in your bag.  Say this person is a man, maybe in his fifties, and he is losing his memories.  Family faces, one by one, falling into fragments and slowly blowing away into the back alley of the mind.  And maybe you are young and vibrant and full of potential, and couldn’t possibly relate to his experience, but in your bag are the memories of another man who was also loosing his mind.  So you pull them out – the memories entrusted to you.  You sit down on a park bench together and you pull out these memories and the two of you talk.  You relate, even though you can’t possibly relate.

To have this kind of conversation . . .   But such questions are hard to come by.  And I’m as guilty as anyone.


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