At some point in your life, you’ve undoubtedly come across someone who responded to your question with some variation of the following:
“Don’t ask questions.”
“Just believe me.”
“Because I said so.” (An oldie but goodie among parental types.)
What is interesting about this is we’ve probably all had the same response to any of these variations.
None of us were persuaded by any of them.
The “don’t ask questions” methodology is shocking in its complete and verifiable lack of effectiveness.
The only way such a response is effective is if it is coupled with one very important element:
If you’ve got it, you can get away it.
If you don’t?
Better be prepared to defend your argument.
Why does anyone shut down questioning?
We all know why parents employ this tactic.
They’re in charge. It’s not a democracy. And, frankly, they don’t really want to spend any time negotiating with you.
The problem is when the “don’t ask questions” method is employed outside of the parent-child relationship (and even in that context it’s very debatable whether or not it’s ever a useful method).
If you are ever met with a “don’t ask questions, just believe me” response, there is only one of three reasons why this is so:
- The person/group does not know the answer and perhaps was told by someone with more power than them to stop asking questions themselves.
- The person/group does know the answer but does not want you to know the answer. They may do this to ensure you respond in a way that is favorable to them and keeping you in the dark helps keep you in line.
- The person/group is simply lying to you.
- (Bonus reason: you’re being rude, sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong, and basically a real pain in the butt, but we’re not discussing that here.)
Setting aside number 4, any motivation a person or group might have to tell you to stop asking questions can fit into one of these three broad categories.
Go ahead and try. It always does.
The question is, why is this topic worthwhile to talk about?
The answer is because asking questions may be the most vital function of mankind and stifling it is one of the most insidious plagues to our society.
Who cares. We live in a world of hyperbole so let’s go with it.
So why is this concept of question-asking so vital?
There is no greater thwarter of progress than the inability to ask questions.
Asking questions is not only our prime means of learning from the knowledge base of what is already known, more importantly it is our prime means of discovering what is unknown.
If we accepted a society where one could not ask questions, how would we ever have figured out the difference between a medical healer and a witch?
Medical professionals worldwide are likely very glad we probed enough to now know the difference.
Asking questions that lead to progress in society rarely goes smoothly, though, which is a shame that has cost far too many lives and punished far too many.
Take the case of Ignaz Semmelweis, for instance.
You see, today we take for granted a very low rate of complications from childbirth.
Fortunately we rest very assured that our expectant mothers and newborn children will make it out alive.
In Ignaz Semmelweis’s time, however, the same assurances were not felt the same way.
Semmelweis was a physician and scientist in 19th century Hungary.
At the time, something called “childbed fever” was common and often times fatal to mothers.
Causes and cures were hard to come by, though.
The cause was unknown and the time-tested tradition of sticking leeches to sick people just wasn’t cutting it for some strange reason.
Fortunately, Ignaz asked questions.
He tried many things and, in time, he came to ask the question of what would happen if clinics adopted the practice of hand disinfection.
You know, washing hands.
It was just crazy enough to work.
Such a concept seems obvious to us today, but only because someone like Ignaz Semmelweis asked the question.
See, at the time germ theory had not yet been known. People of that time were far more likely to attribute any misfortune to an angry god or witchcraft than they would to an invisible microbe living on the surface of our skin.
It almost seems like a crazy theory typing it out even today – invisible little buggers on our skin wreaking havoc if they’re the bad buggers or bringing protection if they’re the good buggers.
You can hardly blame someone from that time for not knowing about germs, or even contemplating their existence.
And if you did, you quite certainly would have been banned from social media.
But many times when he tested this, Ignaz found mortality rate to be reduced to less than one percent.
That should have been enough to persuade, no?
Ignaz Semmelweis was mocked for his findings.
(Stop me at any time if you are seeing any parallels to things happening today.)
Sadly for Ignaz, his strategy was not adopted. His anger and indignation at the medical community grew and grew for years. They would not take his findings seriously and, in his mind, ultimately cost untold numbers of lives, completely needlessly.
You would probably feel the same way if you had discovered what Ignaz had.
In the end, Ignaz’s tale was not wrapped up in glory and accolades as you might think it would have been for someone who made a discovery as paradigm-shifting as he had.
Ignaz’s tale ended in an insane asylum where he died after only two weeks following a beating by the asylum guards.
If only the society in which Ignaz lived was open to questions and possibilities, perhaps his tale would have ended differently and many many more people would have survived.
Who knows? The point of this article is not to tell the entirety of the Ignaz Semmelweis story, for which I am not qualified at present.
The point is to address the disastrous results that occur when we are not allowed to ask questions, to challenge the orthodoxy, the push the boundaries of what is possible.
This is why we must not accept a world where asking questions and challenging orthodoxy is even so much as frowned upon, let alone stifled completely.
Removing the boundaries of what is possible, fixing what ails us as individuals and as a society, can only be achieved through the relentless asking of questions.
Asking questions, i.e. not accepting the status quo, is how we advance and how we grow.
So if you ever see someone, a group of people, an institution, what have you, discouraging the asking of questions, think about the three reasons why anyone might do such a thing.
And think about Ignaz Semmelweis.
Let’s not do that again.
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