Monday, May 18, 2015

If You Could Have One Question Answered, What Would It Be?

Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work. - H. L. Hunt

Indeed, this life is a test. It is a test of many things - of our convictions and priorities, our faith and our faithfulness, our patience and our resilience, and in the end, our ultimate desires. - Sheri L. Dew

The #1206 “fiction” series continues …

In restaurants, coffee shops, parks and other public places around the world, a tall, nondescript man sought out people sitting alone, walked up to them and asked each of them the same question in their native language:

May I join you?

Some said “no”, some shook their heads without saying anything but many invited the man to sit down with a gesture, a simple acknowledgement or an equivalent response.

The exchange between the man and the person sitting alone began the same way for everyone he approached, with the man smiling at the other person before saying, “My name is Gabriel.  What is yours?”

In a restaurant in New York City, the woman sitting at the table replied that her name was Abigail.

“I am pleased to meet you, Abigail”, replied Gabriel.  After exchanging some initial pleasantries, he paused, looked her intently and directly in the eye and asked, “If you had one question and one question only that you would like answered, what would it be?”

Abigail paused for a moment before answering.  “I would want to know why my child died and was taken from me”, she said, her eyes misting up as she answered.

“Interesting”, replied Gabriel, “And what would you do if you were provided with the answer?  What if I could guarantee an answer for you?”

Abigail paused for a moment, frowned in thought and then said, “That’s a good question.  I’m not sure.  I don’t even know if I would even want or like the answer.”

Gabriel nodded in acknowledgement before asking her, “What would you be willing to do or to sacrifice in order to obtain an answer to this question?  Or in other words, how badly do you want an answer at all?”

“Wow”, Abigail replied, “these are also good questions.  I don’t know the answers to those off the top of my head.”

Tears welled up in her eyes as she reflected on the questions the stranger was asking her.

“Why are you crying?”, asked Gabriel, frowning slightly in concern.

Abigail shrugged and then shook her head in silence.

Gabriel nodded slightly, accepting that his questions had probably reintroduced some painful memories for her.

After pausing for a moment, he looked at her and asked “Do you not know what you would be willing to give for an answer to your question, Abigail?”

“I have no idea”, replied Abigail.

“Perhaps this suggests that you don’t want the answer bad enough”, said Gabriel gently, “and since you therefore can’t put a value on the answer, you don’t know what you would be willing to pay to obtain it.”

“I don’t know”, replied Abigail, disagreeing with his suggestion, “Maybe the question has no answer that is worth obtaining or has no value that can be determined.”

“I disagree”, responded Gabriel, “Every question and answer has a value and a cost.  Knowing what we are willing to give up to obtain the answer is what determines the value of it and the effort required to get it.”

He paused before continuing.

“Maybe if you can’t decide what you would be willing to trade to obtain the answer, that you may have asked the wrong question”, he suggested, “I will ask you again - if you had one question and one question only that you would like answered, what would it be?”

Abigail thought deeply on the question before replying softly.  “I don’t know”, she said quietly.

“Few people know what question to ask or they are afraid to ask their question”, said Gabriel,  “However, it is curious that almost everyone I ask this question of asks a question about their past and not their future. I find that interesting.  Don’t you?”

“Why is that interesting?”, she asked.

“Well”, he replied, “it means that we have many questions about out past and few of our future.  We seem to prefer to focus on potential regrets or mistakes from our past while we either fear our future or feel that we cannot or should not ask about it for some reason.”

Abigail listened intently but said nothing.

Gabriel continued.  “If we focus on our past”, he mused, “instead of our future, how do we know that we are focusing on what matters in our lives – the things that have yet to be that will leverage the potential that is contained within us?”

“Maybe”, countered Abigail, “that all questions have no value.  How can you put value on a question like mine?”

Gabriel took the glass of water on Abigail’s table and placed it in front of her.

“How much would you pay for this glass of water?”, he asked.

“I dunno”, shrugged Abigail, “a dollar, maybe two.”

“Fair enough”, replied Gabriel, “Now imagine that this is the only glass of water for a thousand miles in any direction.  Now how much are you willing to pay for it?”

Abigail’s face lit up.  “I get it”, she said, “All questions do have an answer and the cost of obtaining the answer is commensurate with the value the answer represents to each of us.”

“Correct”, Gabriel said, smiling, “There is always an answer and there is always a price to pay for obtaining it.  How much we are willing to pay for that answer is determined by how badly we want or need it.  The question is only unanswerable if we don’t know how badly we want the answer in the first place.”

“So”, he continued, “Do you know what question you would ask now?”

“I do”, asserted Abigail.

“Good”, replied Gabriel, “Do you know what you are willing to pay for it?”

Abigail paused, sighed and then shook her head sadly.

“Until you know that”, replied Gabriel, “the answer to your question will continue to elude you.”

Gabriel stood up from the table and touched her shoulder gently.

“When you know what you are willing to pay for the answer”, he said, “I will return.”

He turned and strode out of the restaurant …. as he did in numerous restaurants, coffee shops and parks around the world … leaving millions of people reflecting on “the question”.

To be continued.

© 2015 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved


I have always been fascinated by how people make choices in their lives.  Some claim to have planned their entire Life out while others prefer to live their Life spontaneously.

Some claim the destination in Life is what matters while others claim that the journey is what matters most.

The reality is that there is no one size fits all model.

However, what is universally true is that if we don’t know what our potential represents and don’t care where we are going, then we will not use our gifts to our ultimate potential and we will have no say in the direction of our lives.  This is true whether we are twenty-something or ninety-something.

It also brings another interesting thought to mind:

What would we be willing to pay for a question whose answer is not given to us until we have paid the price for it considering that:

1. Whether or not we liked what we paid commensurate with what we received would be irrelevant.

2. It may be too late for a second question / answer.

How would you answer the question that Gabriel was asking?

What are you willing to pay to obtain an answer?

Are the question and answer important enough to meet up to your potential or is it based on the trite, the mundane and the unimportant in the grand scheme of your Life?

What do your answers tell you?

What should you do next?

How do you know?

Alternate Ending

I mused about Gabriel asking Abigail what she wanted and she would have replied that she wanted to know how much longer she would have with her partner and that she would give anything for the answer.  Gabriel would have replied that the answer was an hour, that the cost of the answer was her partner’s Life (the ultimate cost since she said “anything”) and this would have stressed Abigail to the point where she would not have spent the last hour with her partner to the best of their potential because of sadness and worry.

Maybe this is what we fear – that knowing our future would not empower us to live better lives but instead would cripple us.

Would you want to know the answer to the question?

Are you sure?

Series Origin

This series, a departure from my usual musings, is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy and large-scale technology architect.

While this musing is just “fiction” and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)

This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.

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