by Jeff Oaks
Why is it I distrust anyone who can’t ask a question? Why do some people seem to feel the need to have all the answers? Have you ever been in a coffeehouse listening to young seminarians, old philosophers, retired mobsters, each armed with a different logic? What does silence mean to them, I wonder? When did I start paying attention to the small pauses that signal someone thinking, someone being not sure enough to give an answer? Was it around the time I was five, and we went to Chicago with our neighbors the Buttses; I was talking excitedly about UFOs, which I thought were real because I’d read it in the National Inquirer, and Mrs. Butts simply said, “Who told you they were real?” I was a little know-it-all, wasn’t I? Didn’t a number of things unravel after that? Didn’t the world seem a little flatter, a lot, in fact, less exciting? Or was that simply my world exhaling? Is it true that adulthood begins when all you have are questions? Can we add Questions to Death and Taxes in the list of those things that cannot be avoided?
There are of course those other people who can only ask questions, aren’t there? It feels so passive-aggressive, doesn’t it? (You don’t think I mean the British, do you? Aren’t they often trying to be polite, inviting you into a place of possibilities, discussion?) What about Fox News for example, especially that awful morning crew? Have they ever asked a question that didn’t have a scripted answer? To them silence is the ultimate terrorist act, wherein torture is the necessary remedy, right? Right? Maybe not all Silence equals Death anymore, as we pretended it did in the 80s and 90s? Maybe silence, like asking a question, is better than some alternatives in some cases? Even a form of resistance?
When is it we learn to ask a question instead of actually just saying something or instead of just saying nothing? Liking this weather? Do the bonobos do that? Or elephants? Will someone ask Jane Goodall if chimps ask questions? They must, mustn’t they? What else do I think my own dog is doing, when just before I actually get up, he raises his head with a jingle of tags and stares at me? Don’t I know what he wants: to walk? Aren’t I being disingenuous when I ask him What’s up buddy and pat his head? Don’t I really mean I’m not ready to sacrifice my comfort?