Lately, perhaps going back as far as last November when I first began writing again, I’ve found myself asking what seems like almost an empty, rhetorical question, and I’ve asked it about almost everything. On the surface, it seems silly. Saying it out loud is like reading from a ratty old EST pamphlet your weird uncle picked up back in the 80’s. I’ve looked at happy, ostensibly inspirational memes and asked it (once getting blocked for asking it in a comment), and most recently I asked it in a Facebook PTSD support group for first responders when the administrator promoted a link to someone calling himself a “Nationally Certified Recovery Coach.” I qualified it with more questions about which professional organisation, which standards of practise, which qualifications contributed to this national certification. I ask it of myself all the time, which is one of the major reasons you often see stuff here not related to PTSD, emergency services, or general mental health.
What does it really mean, though?
Before today, I hadn’t really thought much about it, but it seems to have become some odd sort of guiding principle for me and this odd sort of journey I seem to have embarked on. When I explore things like hate, happiness, serenity, or the differences between those things, it’s that query, either written flat out in the essays or just rolling languidly around in my head as I bother the neighbours with my early morning tap-tap-tapping, that’s always at the bottom of it.
What does that really mean?
There’s this old chestnut you’ve probably heard that says there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers. Cliches like that will often lose their meaning, their weight, through overuse and repetition. They become banal, empty, and hackneyed despite that they may still sound deep and so very serious. They become Internet memes, basically. People will furl their brows at them for a few moments and think they’re wiser for the reading when in fact it’s a shallow, transient thing they learn nothing from. What they should do, though, these old tropes and the memes inspired by them, is to encourage further thought, and yeah, more questions. Questions are what put twelve people on the moon. Questions have created great literature and works of art, philosophy, and science. They help decide what you’re going to have for breakfast and what you’re going to do with your life.
Okay, at this point I’m probably beating a dead horse, preaching to the choir, and reinventing the wheel. It’s important, though, because most people go through their lives reading from a script that’s been handed to them that they believe is of their own invention, believing they’re thinking for themselves but accepting things to be true a priori even still. “Fake news” is a catchy little phrase being tossed about quite a bit lately, and it’s become a shallow defense for those folks who may know they didn’t come up with it but still believe they understand it, when in fact it’s been written on a cue card for them to parrot.
Once, returning to the station for lunch after a busy morning, I found the door propped open and two people I was unfamiliar with wandering about inside. I asked them who they were, and what they were doing. It sounds like a simple thing, doesn’t it? Of course you would’ve asked too, of course you’d want to be sure they belonged there. They were, apparently, scouting the place for a documentary of some sort, and after checking ID’s and calling my supervisor, everything was in order. One of them smiled then and actually thanked me for challenging them. He told me three other crews had come and gone while they’d been there and simply accepted their presence without question. I did the same thing many times with plainclothes police officers who would approach and ask questions on a scene, and they always looked surprised when I wanted to see their identification.
The question Do I Really Want to Die? saved my life once. That’s not melodrama, but a simple truth. Why do I hurt myself? Is helping someone I know keep from self-harming. Questions, and the answers they provide, have some very powerful mojo.
If someone refuses to answer one, that is an answer in itself.
So this “Nationally Certified Recovery Coach” responded personally to my queries and his credentials checked out to my satisfaction. I wasn’t planning on hiring him, but I still wanted to know since he was being promoted in this group, and to his credit, he was perfectly okay with that. I still don’t like the phrase, though, but it’s not my place to suggest changes, as much as it is to ask the questions. That’s everybody’s place, their right, and more of us need to exercise it more often.
So put aside the script and do some improvisation. Be curious and nosy and make the inquiries. Don’t automatically accept everything at face value.
Ask yourself, “What does it really mean?”