Friday, September 16, 2005

Questions Aid Communication

Recently, my dad, Kenneth, told me an amusing story from his childhood, one I’d not heard before. His family roots are tinged with the red clay of Arkansas. But during the Depression, they moved to different work locations in Texas. His summertime story took place in La Mesa.

My grandfather worked on a pipeline, and his young sons made small change by doing odd jobs in the community. Dad’s younger brother Bob often carried drinking water to the oilfield workers. They’d usually tip him when he approached with a jug of cool water.

Rumor mill said a young boy could make 25 cents at the golf course. My dad, about 9 at the time, had never seen a golf ball or a green. The only “tee” he’d heard of was a Model T. “Birdie” simply meant bird. He didn’t know the rules or game, but he’d heard that spotters at the golf course could earn two bits. He decided to give it a try.

At the course, he approached three men readying to play and asked to be their spotter. They hired him. His job description was laid out in simple terms. “Keep your eye on the ball, son.” They swung their clubs, and daddy ran ahead, fanatically watching where each ball fell.

Enjoying the out of doors, the golfers cajoled and ambled toward the fairway. Just over the rise, my dad eagerly awaited. He’d watched the flight and the landing of each ball. He’d picked them up, and in the middle of the fairway, three balls were lined up in a neat row. The golfers threw up their hands and fired the kid on the spot.

Dad’s experience reminded me of the most common dilemma in relationships: misunderstanding. When one person’s response doesn’t meet the expectations of another, problems arise.

Adept at relationships and teaching, Rabbi Jesus’ actions can be trusted to help clarify communications. Jesus asked questions. Questions often cause rumination, pondering. Unless rhetorical, they are usually answered, and understanding between people is enhanced. Sincere questions also reveal the willingness to instruct and to receive feedback.

One example is when Jesus taught his disciples and a crowd. He asked two questions: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his own soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36, 37). With questions, he plumed the depths of their hearts and let them know he had answers.

Jesus, the founder and keeper of souls, followed his questions with instruction. “If any man is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” (vs. 38).

A “do you understand” question aids understanding and shows concern. Opposite attitudes smack of indifference, such as “They’ll eventually catch on” or “They’ll live and learn.”

Questions till thoughts. They turn topsoil. They stir imagination. If one of the golfers had asked young Kenneth if he understood their game, he could have spotted golf balls instead of retrieving them like softballs. Dad’s good-natured telling of the golf faux pas reminded me to better communicate with questions.

Questions, anyone?

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