On (not) answering

Jakub Guziur

Communication and Mass Media Faculty

It is answers that are wanted. Realizing I know only a little more than nothing, I offer my uncertainties and doubts instead. 

We came here for the answers, students insist, looking somehow confused and frustrated. Sure, but: Would you trade a feeble, short-lived answer for a solid question which can last a lifetime?

Questions?It is not ignorance, I hope. Perhaps a preference for understanding over knowing, for experiencing the complexity of problems over totality of experience which is involved in theorizing. The ancient Greek word from which theory is derived means careful observation of significant events. But somewhere along the line, the observer was absorbed in the observation and forgot about the importance of his being there and its implications. Theories rule out what is personal, essentially subjective. So do answers.

Questions do not, not always. Even though we have heard many smart answers and elaborate theories, questions remain: continuous and unrelenting. Inviting us to experience the confusion and frustration they bring, so that the need for understanding becomes personal and thus more urgent. Not being personally involved usually diminishes the question and the answer into mathematical formulæ. As Milan Kundera once noted: “Modern stupidity means not ignorance but the nonthought of received ideas”. It seems we can be learned and stupid at the same time.

The power which comes with the knowledge of answers is often accompanied with – at times good-hearted and well-meaning – arrogance, conceit of those who want to own the truth and are guarding it by controlling the discourse. Armed with all kinds of answers we feel safe and empowered – until a simple question asked out of sincere concern and inquisitiveness makes us realize that we are in fact helpless.

Sadly, answers are mistaken for the truth. The only way I can honestly talk about the truth is to consider it to be that which makes us think. Questions energize us with passion for inquiry which cannot be contained. When it is spent we take what is momentarily at hand and idolize it. With heads bowed down we do not see that the face of the idol only reflects our fatigue. To go on then we have to go back to where we started: to the original question, empty-handed but hopefully better understanding the way.

Does this answer the question?

The author is Guarantor of the Communication and Mass Media major, and teaches Intercultural Communication at UNYP

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