11th September 2003
Sustaining the Quest for Sustainable Answers
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The above diagram endeavours to interrelate different ways of understanding
questions and answers.
The four quadrants in the diagram are devoted respectively to:
- Having the questions without the answers: a situation typical of those on
a quest in search of a solution for a problem they have defined. "Gurus"
of various kinds may respond to them -- but possibly by encouraging them to
shift to some new zone, without necessarily providing answers.
- Having the answers but not the questions: a situation typical of those committed
to particular forms of action as an answer to a question that seems no longer
to call for reflection. This may be highly desirable in emergency situations.
- Having both the questions and the answers: a situation typical of the learned
and experienced who are no longer challenged to reflect upon their certainities.
This may be the expectation placed upon educators.
- Having neither the questions nor the answers: a situation typical of those
unchallenged by their environment or their relationship to it. On the other
hand it may also be typical of the challenge of a highly turbulent environment
in which questions and answers have to be formulated in the moment -- so
that not having anticipated them may well an adavantage.
The three concentric rings in the diagram are devoted respectively to:
- Outer ring: the appreciation of questions and answers as encountered in
- Middle ring: the framing of the conclusion regarding the encounter with
questions and answers in daily life (in the outer ring)
- Inner ring: the existential understanding of the insights of the outer and
The diagram as a whole can be viewed as a kind of attitudinal "gearbox"
through which to navigate the world of experience. One may shift from one zone
to another according to circumstances. It is unclear that the question-answer
mix of any particular zone or ring is preferable in any absolute sense. There
may however be circumstances in which one or another is more appropriate.
The diagram raises the question as to whether there is a need to move beyond
the preoccupation with questions-and-answers. But should that question be answered?
From Diana James: Middle ring: All questions and answers are
significant but cannot be "had". The framework of "having"
or "holding" is too fixed in time, a human lifetime; and confined
in space, a human capacity to understand. The framework of the 'sustained quest'
is the inner compulsion of human existence. Each generation must mount their
horse and go forth to find the Holy Grail, a mysterious container of fluid.
The 'question' then is outward movement and the 'answer' is fluid.
Inner ring: Questions and answers are essential to human life, like
the air we breathe. Yet every breath in and out is different, the air it contains
cannot be confined in its origin or its influence. Questions and answers like
ocean waves move from the depths to the surface and continually change the shoreline.
What once were beaches we stood on becomes deep water abutting cliffs. Humans
must swim and land on the beaches to catch their breath before the next great
swim in the ocean to discover new beaches. Their folly is to believe the beach
is real estate to be had, held and sold as a quantifiable thing.
Questions and answers are not things to be had, rather verbs to be enacted.