EDITOR’S NOTE: After spending the last two decades as the founder and frontman for the Grammy winning Jars of Clay, Dan Haseltine doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but he has gotten pretty good at figuring out how to ask the right questions. Join Dan on Scribble & Jam, where he’ll talk to artists, musicians, global leaders and geniuses about the question that shapes them, and why the rest of us should care.
There is nothing as important as the invention of a great question.
We don’t know much about the soul these days because it takes too long to travel there. Our conversations tend to end just above the surface, where we know a lot of stuff about a person, but don’t know the person themselves at all.
I imagine that I have been swept up, like most people, in the pace of life that keeps me skimming the surface like a thin stone upon a glassy lake. I welcome a good lifehack as much as the next guy. If I can do more, see more, move more, consume more at a faster pace, I may not ever have to stop and wonder about the skewed values and upside-down priorities that oft propel me ever onward.
And yet, in those moments where I am left alone catching my breath in the quiet space between shiny objects, I rediscover a resource that I don’t consider often enough. I remember the value of knowing.
That’s all a fancy way of explaining why I’m making a podcast. I know that it could seem as if I’m just creating another product for rabid consumers to bite into. I could be accused of just adding noise to a din that’s already too pervasive. I won’t shrug that implication off.
But I’ve been out of practice and pear-shaped in my abilities to ask good questions. Justified as I may be, having come from an occupation where I was mostly responsible for answers to other people’s questions, a person can become a bit self-occupied and even self-impressed by the quick sound bites they fashion.
Questions lead to a certain kind of knowledge, which is to say that questions remind us that the knowing is in the asking. I don’t remember which one of my elementary school teachers said it, but I remember the statement: “People with answers are stupid.” It didn’t make much sense to me as a young student. Honestly, I’m still not sure that’s the best way to put it, but I see what the teacher was getting at.
A more eloquent version of that statement might be to consider life as an ongoing conversation. It begins with our first intense wail as a newborn filled with the desperation of “Where am I?”, and it continues with every curious reach for something we should not touch or something we can’t understand. To end the conversation is to die. To conclude that we have the answers we’re looking for, and need not ask anything more, is to stop breathing.
I am convinced that if we were all better at asking questions there would be fewer problems in the world. We would investigate further, be more curious, more aware of the gaps between what is true and what has not been made clear. We would find ourselves tangled up with people who live and believe differently than we do. We would not be so profoundly influenced by our quick judgments. Fear of the unknown would not be cause for attempts to control or destroy each other, but would usher in a fertile curiosity. We would wake up in a world where we treated the people around us, once so common and dull, like we treat the end of an episode of a bingeable Netflix show. We would want to ask the next question, and the next one. And we wouldn’t be so easily offended.
After all, we are guided by questions. We are all people who need something and do not know how to get it. We are all faced with obstacles and challenges. And we are all unknown to the people around us, just as they are unknown to us. To know is to love. Test that statement out. See if it isn’t true. I dare you.
We wonder why there seems to be less love and more hatred in the world today. Perhaps, it is that we are fatigued by what we know about each other. We don’t remember what makes us human or what holds us together as beings. We are chronically unique and fatally distilled from invaluable human beings to personal brands, defined by what we align with, rather than by what we are as if we are plastered with little stickers like some NASCAR shell. We have actually lost so much perspective on the value of a person that skin color is an influencer. Doesn’t that seem strange? We have forgotten the deep soul that we each have that fills us with imagination and wonder and holds the infinite universe. Our problem is that we don’t know that we don’t know. We think we know everything. We think our answers will serve us best.
But answers end conversations and begin arguments. Answers create spaces in need of a defense. Answers plant flags and establish territories. Answers draw lines in the sand. Answers are not knowledge. Questions are knowledge. And everyone has one specific question that shapes more than any other. It influences life and creativity and work and relationships. I want to know what that question is for the people I talk to on Scribble & Jam.
That is why I want to ask questions. More specifically, I want to get to the question beneath the question. I want to create a place where knowing matters. And by knowing, I mean loving someone enough to want to get to the next question.
Scribble & Jam is the discipline of asking questions and finding questions. I hope you will enjoy listening to it. I hope it feeds your own conversation.
Cover art by Wayne Brezinka. See more of his work, and the process behind creating Dan’s portrait, at his website.