I have a beloved relative, a thoughtful and philosophical person who, even now at 94, is still asking questions about life. This Thanksgiving holiday was an opportunity to spend some quiet time with her and hear her reflections about people she loves, people who’ve passed, people she misses; she took the time to wonder whether she really understood the people she thought she knew. Had she missed important aspects of people she thought were friends? Were they really as nice as they appeared to be on the surface? Did she really know her own parents? And, especially as one grows closer toward the end of life and physical pain increases, why is life still worth living?
These are big questions, important questions, which got me thinking, not just about people I know, but about the choices people make, their impact on each other and the world each of us is involved in creating. This has been particularly on my mind in recent days as I see so much unnecessary anger on social media and wonder why people—when it really is people and not bots—devote so much energy to attacking others. I wish I could ask and receive a real answer to the question: Really, why are you so angry? In turn, there are others I’d like to ask: Why are you so indifferent at a time when your engagement could not be more important?
Maybe all this is a lot, even too much, to think about. But I hope it might evoke your thoughts on questions worth asking. Perhaps it’s to someone you know and love but never had a chance to question beyond the surface. Maybe it’s a question to a politician or someone else in public life. Perhaps it’s a broader question you’d like to ask about life or society, for example: Are we Americans ever going to regain a sense of unity—and how?
So here we are for this Saturday: What question do you want to ask? And why? I’m always intrigued to read what’s on people’s minds here, but I’m especially curious to learn what this prompt elicits and what we may learn from each other. I hope it strikes you as a worthy reflection, a valuable follow-up after holiday feasting. As always, please do be respectful.
Photo via Getty Images.
I would ask the millionaires and the billionaires, How much money is enough, and how can you live with yourself and retain so much personal wealth when the money you have could be used for so much good on the planet?
First off, I'm white and have had a privileged life, not from riches, but at my age (78), I know where I came from (I live in Tennessee). As I look back, I know that I have been so fortunate, not from my privilege which helped, but for the people I have met. I was fortunate to have been in the military for five years and learned not only war, but personal discipline and that the world is a very diverse place and to accept that and move on. I met, befriended, and worked with blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, and I learned integrity and truth are important and race and ethnicity differences are irrelevant. Period.
The greatest question that I have, especially recently, is why can't people just ask questions to learn the truth, and not accept obvious lies as the truth. Obviously, this isn't new. It's eternal or we wouldn't have had wars. I saw it in segregated schools when I was growing up and it is scary that we are seeing segregation return, especially in the south, unless we can answer the question, why can't we accept obvious truths. All people are equal and deserve the freedom and liberty that white people have always known in this country.
Recall when my Dad was aging and I was spending as much time with him as I could, he was struggling at times. One question I asked, him and myself, was what brings me peace. Thank you for sharing your questions about life's important moments and time we spend with those dearest to us.
Why has racism been nurtured by churches and politicians? This is the festering scar that never seems to heal. My life is enriched by having friends of all races and cultures. We share learn grow by spending time together and being open. Food- Art- music. Why are so many closed to these wonderful experiences?
Steven I think this is so timely, and I wonder if the absence of “questioning” is not a major issue amongst Americans. That anger could likely be quelled with a question of what the end purpose of that anger is for, or what results are expected; If the other side has reasons for their beliefs and if sharing information might be a better way. I personally am full of questions now- it’s just a time in life where there are too many unknowns not to-
I find peace in service. After a mostly prosperous career (which is not over), looking at what we can do for others is a question I find myself asking continually.
At Thanksgiving I think it is appropriate to ask, “How is it that I am so fortunate to live in a free, safe, abundant nation when so many others in the world do not?”
"You've got to be taught to hate...", and the right-wing is doing a great job at it: Faux News, Muck, QAnon, OAN, bloggers, etc., et al. Excuse this simplistic question, but why is there no way to stop the fomenting of such rampant hatred? They are all shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater.
Will there ever be a time that humans create peace throughout the world and with the planet, or will there always be aggression, abuse, greed, violence against others and the planet?
I often ask myself, "what am I missing, what am I not seeing?" I ask myself this now when I look back over my life and relationships, now I can see things I missed and see clearer than I could not back then. So I often wonder, what is that I am not seeing now? I would ask my parents and grandparents about their lives, dreams , what was important to them; I would ask God why man was created with such capacity for evil?
You wrote a beautiful essay. Thank you Steven.
Wow, thank you so much for this thoughtful piece. A lot here to think about.
Is human nature evolving or are we simply running faster on a stationary treadmill?
What scares you the most about your life in the future? What is the most important thing you do to help?
This is a thought provoker- thank you.
My question: Life is a ‘limited time offer’ for every single one of us. Name one thing you wish for?
Steven, you ask about anger in your post. Great question but no easy answers. On one hand, anger comes out of the sense of injustice in the world and the desire to change it. This is productive anger that can be focused on making changes.
Unfortunately the anger we see today comes from insecurity, love unrequited, sense of having no place in the world, sense of failure, and not getting attention. This anger is designed to grab attention, which is a replacement for “success, love, self-import. “ this is destructive and nihilistic anger designed to further injustice and destroy others who are secure in themselves.
The only solutions to destructive anger is constructive anger (fight fire with fire) and the use of sarcasm and ridicule and full up front confrontation.
Thank you, Steven, for giving this community an opportunity to ask questions. I feel that we are sorely lacking inquiry and listening skills in our society and that this is part of the cause of all of the dysfunction we are experiencing.
My question: What does it mean to be human?
A poem by my late father, Joe Beardsley, which asks an important question:
"The Sophisticate ": He never stood in awe
Of anything, never having looked Into infinite pools to see
The working rods and cones of His own eyes, or questioned
The strange fabric out of
Which he was born, and
Through which he made
His daily way; no, nor even
Of his own ability
To never stand in awe.
Life is a Miracle. I stand in awe of our very existence. Again, thank you.
This reminds me of an interview with a woman turning 106. She was asked how she liked the changes that had taken place in her lifetime. She said she didn’t bother liking or not liking anymore. She simply tried to understand. In my seventies I find this a radical way to save my energy.
Newspapers, since Colonial days, stirred up many controversies. Some of those papers in big markets probably did so against one another in competition to drive readership. Then in the 1920’s radio took center stage. Father Coughlin spewed antisemitism and spoke admirably of Hitler and Mussolini. Then television became the standard bearer of some seedy programming. (Jerry Springer?)
But then the internet and its extension social media came along.
So yes, all these other platforms have along with enlightening and entertaining our population, sown arguments and vitriol. But my question would be hasn’t social media made worse many times over and coarsened and made more malicious our public discourse? Even more so than all other media platforms combined?
I believe social media has made it much easier for nefarious ne’er-do-well players to drive a wedge between us in the US particularly and worldwide generally. So is there any way to combat this without diminishing in any way our Constitutionally enshrined freedom of speech?
Your questions are good. Mine would be to Congress: why so much energy spent on punishment rather than passing the bipartisan Electoral Count Reform Act that still sits in Senator Schumer's pocket, which has about half of 39 cosponsors from each party, being the most important way to avoid a future January 6th?
I don’t!! it’s so frustrating that so many “leaders” are leading people to division- hate-inequality! I’ve lived, worked and photographed in Third World countries. Most Americans don’t have a clue how hard it is to get basic services in much of the world. Food- housing -medicine. I’ve never understood selfishness.
How do we defeat hate?
What is the best way, if there ever is a best way, to engage someone you love in a conversation that you know is a sensitive one? How to “open their mental door” knowing it will be taxing for both participants?
I would ask the angry people if they realize they're being played for the benefit of those in power and those who would seek it. Ron Desantis is making gay people a target. To what end? If you already hated or feared gay people, did you ever ask yourself why? Desantis is taking advantage of your hate and fear to gain personal power; he's not doing this for you. Perhaps the better choice is to think for yourself and look beyond your own life and realize how much happier you can be with a little love.
I've often asked myself whether I could support Trump if he were a Democrat. I've witnessed the power of tribalism and am convinced that I could never support someone so bereft of morals as Trump. That raises questions about how so many people, and elected leaders in particular, are able to go against what I assume most, if not all of them were raised to believe, and support a pathological liar, a racist, homophobe, etc., and someone intent on destroying our democracy. How can that happen? Have they no shame? How can elected leaders stand before the American public and lie to our face...tell us that what we clearly saw with our own eyes on January 6 did not happen? I simply don't understand how someone can do that. Are they so motivated by fear and greed and hunger for power that they are willing to say and do anything?
I have thought and thought and cannot say I have really ever been angry, perhaps disappointed is the word or sad, often in/at myself, but with most every instance, there has also been an element of joy.
I am disappointed that my country is on a competitive track with China for world wide influence, even dominance. But people still think of America as a great, free beacon and risk lives trying to get here. Nobody is in line to enter China that I know of. I am disappointed that Tucker Carlson is listened to more than anyone, but fortunately, we still have Jon Meacham, Bob Woodward, Rachel Maddow plus Harry Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt, David Halberstam to emulate and the NY Times, winner of 132 Pulitzer Prizes,to read. I am dismayed that trump, like the Energizer bunny, keeps going and going and going, but others like him in the past have ended their power sprees , one hiding out in a bunker with a self inflicted bullet hole in his head and a burned body, another, lined up against a wall,riddled by machine guns, then hung by his feet next to a gas station where Italians beat, spit and shot his body. trump will disappear. Others will follow but with the same fate. There are 60 million registered Democrats. I am saddened that trump's evangelicals have misinterpreted religion beyond recognition of logic, like Aristotle's views about the earth and the sun with Galileo punished by the Church. Galileo won. I am saddened that Ron Reagan Jr. advocates atheism on TV. Even Jefferson was a theist, and I know that the vast power over the unending universe has saved my life at least 8 times.
Also, on a personal level, I am perturbed that I did not follow the life's path that I had always wanted to be what I could have been but instead, married too young and the wrong man and followed his lack luster life instead. But I feel only neutrality towards him if I see him again, like passing a stranger on the street. I advised my daughters to wait until they were at least 27, and he had to be tall !! They listened.
Not at all relevant to the seriousness of the discussion but a memory, I was upset and still am to this day, that I got a 99 on a PA history course final. Always said I would have felt better had I gotten a C.
But I was fortunate to receive an excellent education, so no real complaints, just that silly one.
We have questions, but they may never be answered. We have memories, but the past is unchanging. Nothing to do but move on to tomorrow and see what it brings.
Thank you, Steven. Always a pleasure reading your thoughts and insights. There are so many questions and at my age I’m not sure I’m ready for the answers to any of them. I think that is what prevents many from asking important questions and it may not be the answer we fear but the tone and emotion in how the answer is delivered.
The only senators who have opposed it thus far are Cruz and Hawley. Is Schumer thus an hypocrit for claiming to be a Cosponsor while 'pocket vetoing' the bill? I'd prefer to think the problem is more the distractions of January 6 punishment, Ukraine, debt limit, abortions and other emotional issues. I've studied the Senate bill, and I believe it is an honest attempt to fix bad 19th Century laws.
I don't think we've ever had a sense of unity, so for me it's really no worse now than it's ever been. I would like to know why Democrats insist on honoring traditions and rules, such as the blue slip and willingly abiding by judicial rulings, that the Republicans have shredded. Congressional subpoenas is a good example, I would not be surprised to see Democrats honor them, but for the life of me I can't understand why.
I would ask all those with such hate and prejudice in their hearts why they are so insecure? Why, if you are so “superior” do you need to keep other people down? Why, if you are so “superior” why do you think you do not need to work hard to achieve your dreams and goals?
To those you “both sides” every issue, I would ask, “there are not alternate truths or facts, what interests do you have in perpetuating falsehoods and untruthful narratives when you know the truth? Does your conscience bother you? How does it feel to be an accomplice to such activities?
To anybody? What is more important to you: to be treated with dignity and to be offered a fair opportunity to find your passion and purpose in life? Or to be wealthy and powerful and have all others serve and worship you (kinda like Elon Musk)? Can you imagine yourself being in the “lower class” serving the wealthy and powerful and how would it make you feel??
What I fear is that we will see people self select themselves into the groups we see in the US and EU today. And I fear that my observations that most in our country are indeed insecure and not willing to view the world as it is...and view themselves as superior, but also the ultimate victim
You have pretty much identified my most important questions. Firstly, not only why are people so angry, but why is there so much hate in the world, so much hate expressed on social media, and most crucially, why do so many act out their hate with violence toward groups of people who are different than they are, e.g. LGBTQ+ community, Jewish people, Black people. and other minorities. Secondly, you named the other very important questions, as to why so many are so indifferent when there is so much work to be done in our world. In my faith tradition, we are not required to solve every problem out there, but we are obligated to start solving the problem when we see injustice or need, at least do a little something, and then the next generation can take it from there. We call it tikkun olam, making the world a better place. Just a little bit from many would have exponential benefit.
About what your aunt said: “She took the time to wonder whether she really understood the people she thought she knew. Had she missed important aspects of people she thought were friends?”
And family, too. Family secrets come to mind, some we may never know and others come to the surface through synchronicity. Having a meaningful conversations with those we love will reveal opportunities for deep reflection and revelation, but time must be set aside to do so. We think we know those closest to us but we never really truly know everything. But we do know their true essence and we do know that we love them and that might be the only thing that’s worth knowing in the end. Life's mystery takes care of the rest.
Thanks for sharing your Thanksgiving story!
Why can’t we freeze the bank accounts of oligarchs to put pressure on Putin to stop his nonsense?
When will people teach their children well? Not to hate others that are different from them and learn to accept others for who they are.
I guess my questions would be for a broad audience:
How do you define patriotism? How do you act on it? Does patriotism require a continual display of physical symbols, such as a flag? Does patriotism allow for, or even demand, a critique of one’s country?
Throughout your life, how have you aspired to be patriotic?
Before you can open that door, it’s best to first build on those past events that helped nurture that love. When you have both settled into that comfortable space, then and only then, the ice would not be too thin to discuss political issues that have bi-partisan support. Partisan issues you may never be able to discuss without possibly rupturing your relationship.
In the process of personal introspection, we need to ask ourselves if we are being the best version of the person we aspire to be. Are we following the path we desire, in our careers and personal lives? Do we have the resolve to stay true to our values and goals, as we cope with issues and events, in a world so often conflicted? Do we endeavour to help others, in a time of need? We need to redefine our perception of humanity, because it is 'we the people' who can initiate change. Human interaction is at the core of our existence, and yet so many draw battle lines between themselves and the belief systems of others. As we approach the New Year, I think we need to call upon our better angels to prevail. And as Conservationist and author of 'The Silent Spring', Rachel Carson said, we need to sustain a sense of wonder about nature and the planet.
Steven, thank you always for your insights. I appreciate so much good will/faith of people to understand, help, change to make world better livable place. I always thought I can read people pretty well, since 2016 I don't think that, opposite it made me confused, disappointed, profoundly sad. Even good people who I saw willing to help others supported pathological liar, sexist, misogynist, cheater, mean, greedy, jealous man. It seems so confusing, perverted, it definitely shaken ground under my previous believes & i tried & still trying to understand so obviously asking so many questions, but the main one is still about humanity, decency, meaning of life, peace, goodness, joy - i treasure these more than ever before. It became measurement of who I surround myself around. Toxicity around became unbearable, & I had to learn to look at those characteristic the most. I do want to live in truth so I try to question what I hear and see. It's written: the truth sets you free
What is the best advice that you have ever been given?