Monday, December 3, 2012

Solving Mysteries–The Direct Approach

People who know me well know that I start each day with “Quiet Hour”, a practice I have followed for almost 30 years.  During Quiet Hour, I do not read emails, make phone calls, etc.  I think about tasks and events coming up, I reflect upon how my past experiences can contribute towards addressing those tasks and events and I read inspirational or devotional material.  It is my way of doing the best I can to make sure that everything is on course in my Life and in the lives of those whom I influence.

My tagline “Create a great day, because merely having one is too passive an experience” is something I try to live every day.

I prefer to experience Quiet Hour in a place where I can be assured of few interruptions and so when I am not traveling, I do it in the local church.

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, it seems that I have attracted the attention of some people who work in the church.  I guess the mysterious 6’3” guy, quietly reading and reflecting, was disturbing them for some reason as I overheard them talking, wondering who I was and why I was there and whether someone should say something to me.

All they had to do was ask me and I would have told them why I was there. :-)

However, they preferred to be bothered by the mystery of the man in the corner rather than just ask the questions necessary to resolve the mystery.

Too many of us live such lives of unnecessary mystery, personally and professionally.  We allow ourselves to be encumbered by the millstones of mystery rather than remove them by asking the right questions and thus freeing our mind to focus on what’s important.

The irresistible force meets the immovable object

This morning at the church, a new person appeared on the scene, snapping at some people about getting this or that done.  She was also doing a fair bit of complaining to the person accompanying her that people never seemed to do exactly what she asked.

At one point, I noticed she was walking towards me with a frown on her face and for some reason, I sensed that this was going to be one of those “irresistible force meeting the immovable object” moments.

She didn’t disappoint me.

“May I ask what you are doing here?”, she snapped at me as she entered the little alcove that I was sitting in.

“Hmmm”, I thought, “Interesting manners.  Let’s have some fun”.

“You may”, I replied, not looking up from the passage I was reading.

After about 15 seconds or so, she said “I’m waiting for an answer”.

I looked up at her and said “I answered your question already”.

Obviously frustrated she asked “What are you doing here?”.

“Ah”, I replied, “that’s an entirely different question.  I sit here every morning and reflect upon the day before engaging the very busy world I live in. It is my understanding that this is a public space reserved for this very type of activity.”

“Why didn’t you say that the first time I asked you?”, she asked.

“Because that’s not what you asked the first time”, was my reply.

She looked at me for a moment and said nothing.  I had the feeling that she had a sharp response ready to go but then realized that I possibly had an even sharper response waiting for her.

She turned on her heel and as she left, I said “Create a Blessed day”.

She never replied.

I am not known as Literal Man for nothing. :-)

Now to be truthful, I’m not usually that literal with people.  However, I sensed that an opportunity to help someone learn a lesson in communication, humility and patience was in front of me and I seized it.

The importance of asking the right questions the right way at the right time … and accepting the answers

People who work with me know that there are two questions that I always ask them both personally and professionally.

1. Why?

For example:

Why are you taking action “x”? 

Why are you doing it that way?

Why do you believe you need to take action “x”?

2. How do you know?

For example:

How do you know action “x” is the best one?

How do you know action “x” is even necessary at all?

What evidence suggests that you need to take action “x” outside of a “gut feel”?

How do you measure the intended outcome so that you will know if you have achieved it (or not)?

I ask these questions respectfully but persistently and I ask until an appropriate answer has been offered or the person gives up in frustration and exhaustion. :-)

If I had a dollar for every person who told me that forcing them to answer these questions saved their business, their career, their relationships or their Life, I could probably solve America’s alleged fiscal cliff singlehandedly.

And if we don’t ask ourselves these questions?

Many people plow through their Life, personally and professionally, being dogged and distracted about things that seem a mystery to them – mysteries that seem important enough to consume their mind but not important enough to actually resolve.

Others don’t bother solving the mysteries but know that they are there with the hope that the unasked questions will not come back to bite them in the backside later.

Why would we subject ourselves to a life of distraction worrying about the unknown or allowing known unknowns to lurk around us like sharks waiting for the right moment to attack?

I think it’s better to ask the difficult questions, accept the answers and use the information to create a Life that we are striving to create rather than to worry about that which is not worth worrying about or worry about known unknowns unfolding in a manner that brings disappointment (or worse).

Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.  - Leo Buscaglia

Worry also saps our brains of that which is necessary to create a Life of Purpose.

Resolving the mystery strengthens us

Even when we don’t ask “the question” because we fear the answer, think of this:

1. Initially the answer may be very frightening.  We won’t know until we ask the question.

2. After the initial fear has passed, the answer may be sobering, forcing us to reassess our situation or to realize that our worry was totally unfounded.

3. Once we have reassessed our situation, the answer  may correct us, forcing us to take a new or different action or to stop worrying (either is good).

4. Once we take action, the answer humbles us, reminding us that we don’t always know everything.  It also teaches us that worry without action produces nothing of value.

5. Once we take action and have learned our lesson, we discover that the fear of the unknown was probably more painful than the actual answer, thus bringing comfort in the knowledge that we have a better way of dealing with similar challenges in the future.

Rather than our inner monologue getting consumed by worry, we should turn off our inner monologue and release our worry to the world in the form of whatever questions, statements or observations are necessary to resolve the worry.

As long as it is done constructively, collaboratively and respectfully, our efforts might solve someone else’s mystery in the process.

Keep in mind that turning our worries loose on the world is not a license to burden the world unfairly or unnecessarily with our personal noise.

Nor does solving mysteries in a disrespectful way move us any closer to knowledge or solutions, as “Mrs. Irresistible Force” learned this morning.

However ….

No one ever solved problems or mysteries, either our own or someone else’s, by keeping the worry or mysteries bottled up inside them either.

And remember ….

Most people are not limited by their access to information and knowledge but rather, by the nature of the questions they ask (or don't ask).

In service and servanthood,

Harry (The Immovable Object With the Broken Inner Monologue)


  1. Thanks for this, Harry. You'll never know how much I needed this today...unless you ask, of course.

    Seriously, this is great advice, wise, and most helpful.

  2. Thanks for your kind words, Doug ... and you know I will ask. :-)

  3. This is an awesome read.

    i love how you start the day. i had imagined that you did something of this nature to "create a great day"

    simple, honest and direct. love that.

    i need to revisit these questions in my world. things have changed this year and while having some new freedoms and opportunities, others have vanished.

    thanks for your heart!


  4. Thanks for your kind words, Marie!

    Thank YOU for your heart and for your service to others. You are a model of servant leadership!

    Create a great day!