The best teachers answer you with better questions

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Path of Wisdom

Over the weekend I had the privilege of attending a seminar with Stephen K. Hayes, my teacher’s teacher, at the Boston Martial Arts Center. The weekend’s topics were many and varied, but I took my own advice (as I always do with Mr. Hayes) and brought my list of burning questions.

Here’s the sign of a master teacher: when you ask your burning questions, you get answers that either are or spawn a whole new line of better questions, even if the question seems relatively basic. You walk away with refined questions and a better direction of where you need to go in order to continue researching. Bad teachers either hand you an answer that shuts down a line of inquiry or hand you a useless answer that on the surface appears witty or insightful but really isn’t all that helpful.

For example, over the weekend, I asked Mr. Hayes about where I was in my study of the Heart Sutra and where I need to go next. The answer I got back was that the Heart Sutra was more or less the table of contents for an entire library of research known as the Wisdom Sutra. Talk about a deep but useful answer – I’ve now got an entire library to read and study along with the things I’m already looking at.

As an aside, talk about a humbling moment. “Hey, I’ve been practicing and reading this text for some time now and it feels pretty good!” “Oh good. By the way, you’ve been diligently reading the table of contents for the book. Here’s the actual book…” Facepalm moment.

No matter what you’re learning, seek out teachers who can help you ask better questions and get more direction in your studies. The best teachers will often give you awful news, too: you’re doing it wrong, but here’s the right direction, the correct way to go about your studies.

This applies to all fields of learning. For example, when you’re at a marketing or social media conference, bring your toughest burning questions and ask around to all of the speakers. Compare their answers and see who gives you tougher questions to go ask and research.

Ultimately, we know the wonderful and awful truth that we have sole responsibility for the answers to our questions, even with the best of teachers. Find the teachers you need in order to ask better questions (ultimately of yourself) so that you can get better answers.

My thanks to Sensei Mark Davis of the Boston Martial Arts Center and his entire team for hosting this event, and to Stephen K. Hayes for generously sharing his insights so that I have better questions.

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One response to “The best teachers answer you with better questions”

  1. I agree, Chris.  This is why law school and lot of advanced teaching is done in the “socratic method” – more about asking questions and getting to the next level, thinking more deeply and critically about issues and nuances that may never have been considered before by either party.  It’s not argument, it’s stepping forward into unfamiliar territory, playing with new ideas, and progressing down a path.

    Even when I present to groups about social media topics, I often tell them- This is largely like getting a tour around Home Depot.  I’m going to show you a bunch of tools, and what people have used them to do before, but how you use them depends more on your context than it does on any one right or wrong way to it.  Knowing what they’re good at, and what they’re less good at may give you a head start in using them and act as a short cut to making better decisions, but what you choose to do with them is going to be much more important than the tool itself.

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