“What would our lives be like today if we’d never invented the word ‘question’?
Mike Choly posed that question to me after our formal Constitution Cafe ended at Troy Historic Village. He was interested in my Childing initiative and book, and even asked for a signed copy.
Mike was among the 50 or so on hand who had joined me, in inaugurating their second year of monthly gatherings, in a thoughtful exploration of,”Does the Constitution guarantee good government?” I’m never thrilled with ‘yes or no’ questions for the most fruitful inquiry of a Socratic kind, and neither is Mike. At one point he said, “What we should be looking into is, ‘What if any provisions of the Constitution can help guarantee good government” And of course we need to examine along with that what ‘good government’ is.
Mike is my kind of inquirer.
The question Mike asked me after the formal dialogue was said and done really gave me pause. That’s the kind of brilliant question that kids ask — it’s even broached in my first children’s book, The Philosopher’s Club. What would a life without the concept of question, without the world of why, be like, he wondered.
We talked about that for a bit. I told him about the student at Quinnipiac University who’d taken part in a Socrates Cafe with me who’d related — the memory still vivid and painful — and one of her elementary school teachers had complained to her parents that she’d asked too many questions. I can only imagine how many kids, adolescents, and even adults with insatiable curiosity have been accused of this — by the very people (politicians, ‘experts’, some educators, even some parents, what have you) who should be encouraging them to question to their heart’s content.
Mike and I eventually began to wonder whether, even though the word ‘question’ stills exists, for all intents and purposes it is slowly but surely going by the wayside.
The most thriving age of questioning arguably reigned in the days of the West’s first democracy in the Athenian polis, when there was a citizenry of enlightened generalists. Questioning born of curiosity, imagination, skepticism, civic and social consciousness and conscientiousness was pervasive. Experts took their marching orders from these engaged questioners. When that changed dramatically, as Mike and I discussed, the Greek democracy went on an irreversible downhill slide.
Mike lives and loves the questioning life like few other adults I’ve ever met. He’d have fit right in during Athens’ halcyon days.
I like Mike. So much so that I wish he and I lived close by, so we could while away many hours questioning, inquiring, wondering. Mike is 94. (And as I write in The Philosophy of Childing, kids and seniors share certain capacities for questioning and empathy and reasoning that put us adults in the ages between them to shame).
I want to be like Mike when I grow up.