To enlighten means “(to) give (someone) greater knowledge and understanding about a subject or situation”. Upon further reflection, I realized that we learn more by asking questions, often unexpected, questions that may seem to be off the topic at first.
Enlightenment was the subject of Steven Pinker’s fantastic book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (see Things are Great – And They are Getting Better…) that chronicled the amazing progress we have made and what are important factors that made that progress possible.
Ulcers from Bacteria?
An example of asking a different and somewhat off the mark questions happened when Marshall & Warren discovered that it was a bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, not stress and lifestyle that caused peptic ulcers (see this 1984 Lancet article). This amazing discovery was possible because they asked good questions. That paradigm improving work helped them to eventually win the 2005 Nobel Prize.
I learned about Marshall & Warren’ work while reading Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health ©2012 and it came to mind while attending a conference.
Rabbit Hole Misdirection
As I attended a fantastic 2022 Appalachian Energy Summitt presentation about how North Carolina was going to get to net-zero carbon with transportation, a question broke our rabbit hole thinking. The discussion was about electric cars and continued with a discussion about the need for a recharging infrastructure, fast charging stations and or battery exchanges, and the need for policy. As we learned, despite available technology, without supportive policy, change is unlikely. As we continued down the rabbit hole of electric cars and their benefits, then infrastructure, fast chargers, and exchange batteries, someone asked a question: What about trains? High speed rail?
It stopped us in our tracks (pun intended). As he stated, even if we have all this, we still must drive, ugh… If we had trains, we could arrive rested, socialize, read, do work if desired and travel easily. He also pointed out the possibility of trains helping NC get to net-zero emission if done right. As I reflected, I realized how different our conversation would have been if we would have thought about what the best way would be to travel, rather than how can we just convert what we currently do toward something better. This question enlightened.
A Problem focus is limiting
Questions enlighten. If we start with the understanding we want things to be better and deprivation will never work for the long term, it will help. Deprivation means doing without. Unless we have a better substitute, it will not be desired. Seeing the new way as better requires framing and promotion. Simply eliminating a problem is less bad, not more good and it limits our thinking toward the problem, not a possible paradigm improving solution as documented by Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden & Build Theory of Positive Emotions (see Build a Net Positive Life for ALL).
This is important because we always move towards what seems better. But to get us to move in that direction, the good must be 3x better than the loss is bad (refer to Critical Positivity Line or the Losada Line). The positive must be 3x more beneficial than the loss because evolution taught us to be oversensitive to losses. We function with what experts call loss aversion. Loss aversion is part of us because it enabled us to survive. Therefore, if we want paradigm improving answers, we shouldn’t ask, what is the problem? As Einstein explained:
Asking a different question enlightens because it can enable us to use different thinking. In health we seem to only ask, what causes sickness? Why are we asking that question when we want to know, “What causes health?” Asking the right questions can help us think about how to create comprehensive improvements that are much more than just not bad.
I know this realization has helped me “Think Again” (see “Think Again” Very Helpful Book) as Adam Grant suggests. Enlightening answers require better questions (see Asking Better Questions Can Generate a Better Tomorrow). Our current focus may help solve a problem but it is unlikely to shift toward true, net-positive, improvement.
As we work to make things better, the new ways will need to crowd out bad things. From my perspective, we should be asking – how can we generate comprehensive improvements? We need to be asking, how do we create net-positive, pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions that cause benefits so everyone and everything benefits? For example attempts to answer this question see: A Way to Practice Paneugenesis, A Paneugenesis Process for America, Create All Good – Paneugenesis – in Prisons?, Practicing Paneugenesis – An Example and many more on this site. These examples are times when people asked questions that kept them out the rabbit hole trap.
Please share questions that help you and may help us think about how to generate comprehensive benefits. Thank you – I look forward to hearing from you.
Please share your thoughts and questions below.
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