My mother’s father was good at asking questions. I didn’t see him often since he lived far away, but when we did visit I knew at some point he would focus in on me specifically (I suppose he did that with everyone), and that’s when the questions would start. They began as standard fact-finding questions about what I was studying or doing in work, what I was reading or enjoying in my free time. In conversations with most people, this is where the questions stop. If the chat continues beyond them, it shifts to weather or sports or some other kind of neutral common ground – but talking to my grandfather was different. The normal questions were just the beginning.
The crazy thing was, he actually listened to the answers. Really listened. Most folks ask a few polite questions because it’s a friendly cultural ritual, not because they are keenly interested in the answers. My grandfather was interested. To be honest, it made me a little nervous knowing that someone I greatly respected was paying such close attention to my words. This man went through a world war, then raised a family and helped lead a church as he climbed the corporate ladder, travelled the world, invented industry standards and wrote books about them …and then sat down, looked teenage me in the eye and asked me more about my summer gardening job.
“So you’re learning a lot about how to take care of that rose garden, aren’t you Seth?”
“I suppose I am, but there’s still a lot more I don’t know.”
“You could learn, though. You could read up on the specifics and work at developing a specialised skill set. Do you think there’s more of a market for this kind of work that you could tap in to?”
I had never thought of that. It was a summer job to me, not the possible beginning of an area of expertise. But Grandpa always thought that way. Once I told him some things I had been thinking about, and he started writing them out as chapter headings for a book. I couldn’t believe it. My grandfather thought my ideas could be a book! Whatever we talked about, his mind was always looking ahead to what could be, and his questions drew thoughts and dreams out of me that I barely knew existed until he asked. His questions made me believe things were possible that I hadn’t even thought of as options before, and encouraged me that they could be possible for me if I worked hard at them.
Because of him, I know how powerful questions can be. And because of him, I’ve found the area of expertise I want to work towards: I want to learn to ask questions, and listen, and see potential like Grandpa did.