Exploring ‘hard questions’ by starting with ‘big questions’
Exploring ‘hard questions’ by starting with ‘big questions’

Deep conversation

David Bornstein recently wrote on the New York Times Fixes blog about how we can repair our public discourse.

His answer was in the form of a question, or rather “big questions.” Ask Big Questions is an initiative of Jewish campus organization Hillel and was co-founded by Hillel Rabbi Josh Feigelson and students Lexie Komisar and Allison Gross in response to some dramatic experiences at Northwestern University.

Bornstein explains,

A big part of the problem with public discourse, contends Feigelson, is that we often begin by asking hard questions before we have explored big questions. A ‘hard question,’ he says, is one that requires special knowledge to answer — so only some people feel they can answer it — and it bears fruit only if the participants in the discussion already share a degree of trust or rapport.

A ‘big question,’ by contrast, is one that matters to everyone and that everyone can answer. Big questions have the potential to tap people’s sense of curiosity and to draw out wisdom from the heart.

I think the Anglican Communion as a whole and many individual churches and communities have experienced a parallel sort of learning about how to have productive conversations about issues that matter.

I’ve sat in some town-hall-style church meetings that asked “hard questions” and degenerated into something out of St. Paul’s nightmares. But I’ve also read accounts of Indaba conversations that brought together Anglicans of vastly different perspectives and created the kind of community that only “big questions,” deep listening, and the Spirit of God can foster.

So I was excited when I learned that Ask Big Questions offers a couple dozen conversation guides for free download.

The guide for How does technology change us? manages to avoid getting preachy. The one for What do you need to learn? underscores the deep spiritual grounding of the people who wrote it. The one on sabbath (How do you recharge?) is simply brilliant.

The guides are so winning, it seems to me, because of their light touch, including in the instructions for facilitators. I highly recommend them for youth ministers, college chaplains, adult formation leaders, and anyone looking to host meaningful conversations and build trusting community. If you’re adapting them for church, a little extra work to add some light Christian framing could be icing on the cake.

What big questions would you like help exploring? What other resources have helped you guide the process?

Ask, and ye shall receive. Especially since someone else is probably asking too.

Kyle Matthew Oliver (@kmoliver) is the digital missioner and learning lab coordinator in the Center for the Ministry of Teaching.

Image credit: “JD deep in conversation” by Karen Sandhu via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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