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Tough Questions

Getting stumped is sometimes an invitation to rethink what we know.

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You’d think that in the age of Google and post-truth everything, nobody would ask you questions anymore: that the facts are out there, just a few clicks away (along with all the half-truths and outright fabrications). Yet every day I’m relieved that just by being out in public, I run into endless situations in which no search engine could really replace a short, simple, human exchange of information.

At least that’s how I feel when I know the answer. Being stumped, on the other hand, is a jarring experience — someone has placed their faith in you and your knowledge, and you’re about to fail them. So I was delighted to hear from a colleague about Simple Scimum, a recent Editor’s Pick on Discover, where a scientist answers her kids’ deceptively straightforward questions about the world around them. It’s a site that turns a tricky Q&A situation — how do you give a reasonable answer to someone whose question is grounded in emotions like wonder and fear? — into an uplifting, informative experience.

Kate, the blogger in question, has a PhD in protein crystallography, a field I didn’t even know existed before visiting her About page. It was there that I also read her mission statement, which I loved:

Being asked things like what makes a rainbow?, are snails amazing? and how bright does the moon shine? has reignited my passion for science. I want to enthuse and enlighten young children and help them to channel their curiosity to understand how things work.

It’s nice, of course, to have an actual scientist provide explanations that I’d normally have to fabricate, cobble together from very loose atoms of classroom memories, or Google right there in front of my kid. But on a deeper level, this made explicit something I’d mostly forgotten: that when you answer a tough question (recent topics for me included the US electoral system, and — of course — death), you gain something at least as valuable as the person with whom you shared your knowledge, however shaky and incomplete the latter might be.

This week, tell us about a moment in which someone asked you a question you weren’t sure how to answer, whether because you didn’t know, were too uncomfortable, or thought you might offend or confuse the other person. This doesn’t have to be about factual questions, of course — the thorniest questions are often those to which there’s no clear, established answer. As always, feel free to approach the topic through any medium (or multiple media), and in any genre or style. I look forward to your posts!

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  1. Hi, there! Well, I write through rhymes just because I can’t speak very well through my mouth. I wrote This particular post because my best friend asked me, “Why do you care for me? Why do you love me so much?” And I was totally stumped because I didn’t know of any particular reason. So, I asked her for some time and then I wrote this….

    http://wp.me/p7Klwb-6r

    I hope you like it. 🙂
    ~Thunder Poet

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Please read my story on the suicide of my best friend. The night my teen son asked me “Why would anyone commit suicide” was the night I realized that was the first time I could not give a true answer to my son about life. When someone is taken from us to disease or murder or by accident, it is easier to explain, but when the person you love takes their own life, it is a most difficult question to answer. http://wp.me/p86n4Q-an

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    1. This is not meant to be a judgmental response in any way–mainly just an amazement. I’m quite surprised that the question “why would someone want to commit suicide?” left someone old enough to have teenage children without an immediate answer. There are lives I hear about through one method or another on a daily basis with which I can empathize and think were I in their shoes, I can’t say I would be able to resist suicide. I’ve led a privileged life, and my “struggles” as lower middle class are nothing compared to what I know others face (that’s in quotes because deep down I don’t believe they were struggles, not meant to cast any sarcasm based on quoting your post). The entire homeless population, those who beg for food, others who don’t know where they’ll sleep at night. I’ve been jobless three times, but I’ve never feared for my life every waking moment because of my religion. People traded on the black market for slavery of any sort may not have had the family and friends to fall back on, as I have nearly all my life. And I certainly feel what I just laid out is a short list. I can tell myself I wouldn’t give in to suicidal cravings no matter what, but I’m far from being in their shoes and can’t honestly say that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No offense is taken and I appreciate your feedback. I am a bit confused though as I do not understand your question or response. You are right there are people in situations where they feel the need to end their lives, but the question was directed to me and not someone in that situation, which is the reason it stumped me, so I don’t clearly understand why you think it would be a tough question? Maybe not for you, but it was for me and the question was asked “what question have YOU been asked that left you stumped” and not “what question would everyone be asked and be stumped to answer.” My brother was quadriplegic for 17 years of his life and he wanted to die as well as he was far worse than all the suffering you have mentioned but he also found hope in his suffering. Hope to find a cure. Hope to help others in his situation. Hope to enjoy seeing those he loved before he passed, as he knew he would. So yes, it stomped me because even seeing him and his situation, he saw suicide as an option, but knew there when his time was up, it was up, but until then he would find a positive reflection to make a difference in his situation. Just like anxiety, Autism, or depression, it is harder for someone with those mental illnesses to understand or deal with certain situations and to say “why can’t you just be happy” to a depressed person, or “just calm down” to a person with anxiety” does not work simply because you are not like that. Same with this question. Because you think one way, it may not be easy for another to think the same way. I hope that helped =) Thank you for your insight!

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  3. my dad asked me the difference between “Psychics” and the gift of Prophecy. Trying to explain that psychics feel they are connecting with a deceased person rather than direct communication from God was really difficult.

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    1. Tricky, because human soul always desires to connect with the unseen… for a sense of comfort and protection I guess, (hence connection with the dead).
      I find prophecy going deeper than a sense of protection or comfort..it can expose any deep intentions …from the root of a person’s soul.

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      1. Now that I’ve had time to reflect on it, something simple would have been that prophecy is a gift from God and a way to connect more deeply with Him.
        Psychics desire human contact, closure, something man made.

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      2. absolutely, i just was looking for simplistic answers. my dad has a sort of wavering faith and sometimes it’s difficult to talk to him deeply about God, spiritual gifts are something he’s not comfortable with- so i was just trying to “generalize” it i guess.

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      3. Being a frequent reader of fantasy, prophecy would more broadly be defined as a vision or message about a specific event or question doled out by a deity or celestial power, not just from the Christian god. Psychics on the whole read from energies created by the universe or world, rather than specifically a deity.

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  4. This year I have tried to avoid any questions presented about the election, and my opinions. There are so many strong views that I’m terrified to answer.

    Completely off topic, I love this layout of your blog, btw!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi I recently asked my personal trainer 2 questions which he cannot answer at all, one is does someone bring or carry a dog into the lift; and the second is does egg or chicken come first?

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  6. So true, Sir. There are still a great many questions left unanswered by Google. I guess that’s good news too because it means there are still a lot of things you have to blog about to answer the unanswered questions in Google search results.

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  7. My favourite way to get information is directly from people in person and it is the only way of learning that really sticks in my memory well. I always seem to recall an anecdote or a word of advice a person has given me when faced with certain situations. Some simple acronyms from way back in my early learning days also have stuck with me along the way. It just seems like the best way for me to retain information. And in response to your question: explaining exactly what clinical depression is to my daughter is a mission of mine. Our last conversation went something like, “me trying to explain” and her “I have no idea what you are talking about, mom”. It’s something I want her to have a solid heads up on in case, well, genes. I was never responded to truthfully when I asked the big questions about death and illness as a child, because my parents wanted to protect me. But then I encountered the truth later in life and it was a shock and felt like betrayal. What age is it appropriate to let children know about some of the big ones, like suicide? I think it’s something as parents we have to work out ourselves. But there will always be someone’s judgment if you share ‘sensitive truths’ with them early on, I find.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. How are you?

    This was the most difficult question someone asked me this week, as I knew they didn’t really want to know how I was… It was merely a statement, a polite greeting…. So I replied ‘I’m fine’… That is always my response, I am never honest with people about it if I am not fine, because that makes you dangerous in their eyes, someone who can’t be trusted – someone who they view as an issue. They don’t ever stop to think ‘Oh, we’re human – this person is having a bad day, a rough week or a tough year… I’ll listen, 5 minutes could mean the world to them’.

    Simple, but powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I abstain to answer difficult questions.
    I’d rather find someone who can confidently answer it:)
    Or often times, I trust google.
    This is really a challenging discussion.

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  10. most of the time I search for facts and oftentimes I ask why I feel things deeply. Right now I’m trusting my guts with a little help of reading discussions like these. Thank you 🙂 I’m having fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m a teacher and there are always times when a student will ask a question I can’t answer. I’ve learned to respond honestly rather than fumbling around or give them incorrect information. I will admit I have suggested “googling it”. 🙂

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  12. that is really nice post. google knows everything. Sometimes its helpful sometimes is not. ok Check this out. we all dont know too many things so the google is a easy way to cheat. I say cheat because with one click we are able to find answer for everything and in the end we never learn. because its a short information that google gave us. The only way to learn is by leasing and argue with people that surround us. that is not right specially for young kids because it make them be lazy and find everything ready

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