In school, I’m often accused of talking back at the teacher. One day, after being annoyed by a seemingly unreasonable question for the nth time, the teacher coldly demanded of me, “Never ask me why.”
I thought that was rather dumb so I scoffed and said, “What? Why?”
On other occasions, I’ve heard imposing comments (as anyone who’s been to school might have made themselves acquainted with too) such as:
“You can’t back answer a teacher.”
“Do what you’re told. Don’t act over smart.”
“Never doubt the teacher.”
As it happens, if you can’t answer a question, it’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask. But most ingrained in tradition tend to shoo away such seemingly unreasonable questions—questions they don’t know the answers to or questions that are inappropriate to that which-has-always-been-done. Truthfully these kinds of questions can only be answered by saying something along the lines of “because it has always been done this way”. And of course, those answers can in turn be vexingly questioned, “But why does it have to be done the same way this time?” and that would unsurprisingly not be followed by an answer but rather words or actions that would obligate the person questioning to shut his outlandish mouth up.
It’s weird. Questions are more valuable than answers, the edit is more valuable than the first draft, yet specific forms of thinking shun out any kind of criticism to dogma and modern society tends to subtly (but strongly) dampen a person’s questioning faculties since the time the child is required to attend school.
I like to think we humans as incessantly being on the equivalent to a first draft. We experiment, modify, and learn through creation and criticism. That’s how we grow in our knowledge of our world. That’s how we progress. Never reaching perfection. But striving; creating and criticizing over and over and then some more.
Personally, I think I’d love to hear my child say “Why” as his first spoken word. Just for the kick of it. Though that might not be wished for by everyone. But I indulge in fantasy. Anyway, the point is, dampening the power of questioning; the trait behind the cause and showcase of our ingenuity and the precursor to any kind of progress, won’t help in anything but keeping tradition alive. At times, when the external force is too hard, even the tradition might fall and all will be lost.
“Only progress is sustainable.”David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity
It’s a personal obligation to reexamine anything that comes across as unquestioned as an obligation. That’s free and independent thinking now, isn’t it?
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