Opinion and Editorial

The saga of never-ending questions

Shilpa Bhasin Mehra
Filed on August 23, 2021
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I think the habit of asking questions doesn’t get left behind with childhood for many people.

The most popular book when I was growing up was “Tell me why?” It felt great to read the intelligent questions and even better answers, so much so that one felt smarter after reading just one page of the book. That was childhood, when one is learning and curiosity is the fire that keeps the flame of learning alive.

I think the habit of asking questions doesn’t get left behind with childhood for many people. They are much older (and supposed to be more mature), but a meeting with them is more of an interrogation. There is a barrage of questions — you barely finish answering one and the second “why” comes up, and then the third “how come”. At such times walking 10,000 steps seem less tiring (for regular people).

I wonder if people realise how nosy and intrusive they are being. Are they ignorant/oblivious to this annoying fact or do they actually realise this but still enjoy doing so? I am not much of an asker. I want to know about your general wellbeing, and that is good enough for me. But that does not mean others won’t ask me questions. It’s like expecting the tiger not to eat me, because I’m vegetarian.

The point of asking a question is to gain knowledge — that is what we remember from our school days. Not to pry into the lives of others. Coming from a legal background, I respect privacy and confidentiality. If the other person/client wants to confide in me, that’s fine. I would restrict the questions to what is needed for the purpose of the matter, not one extra. I am not his mother, wife or best friend (these 3 categories particularly feel they have free access to your life and its mysteries).

I feel even asking a question is an art, if you don’t have it, please acquire it as a skill. If you are an examiner, you are completely within your right to ask all questions that you want. But the people one meets or talks to are not examiners. If you are making polite conversation, please keep it polite and not intrusive. If I feel very close to you, I will anyway share and the need for questions won’t arise.

And if you are simply bored, play Ludo online instead. No stress for anyone.

We all have heard of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), I think OQD (Obsessive Question Disorder) belongs to the same family.

Unlike hypertension and diabetes, that can be measured and treated, these are more tricky. Very few would like to admit they have these disorders in the first place (although it may be quite obvious for the others).

But the good news is that we can do a lot about it ourselves. We can remind ourselves that we are having a conversation and not an interrogation. If the other person feels even a little uncomfortable, we should change the topic and drop the questions. If we are the one being questioned, I have used some of these tricks/techniques that have helped. A bit of humour always helps, like when I was asked a personal question “what’s your salary”, I replied “not good enough” or “overworked and underpaid”. The other person got the hint and backed off. Or even deflect the question, with “aren’t you in a curious mood today”. That also conveys the message of stop prying.

When subtle hints don’t work, just excuse yourself to use the restroom.

But what works incredibly well is a smile accompanying “I’m fine, all is good”. The questions about health, wealth, job, children, household and travel seem to hit a speed breaker when you say I’m good. The questions about all the ifs and buts suddenly seem irrelevant then.

It is a great misconception that asking a million questions to the people we love, is the way to feel close to them. Our relationships are not dependent on knowing every detail of the other person’s life. A definition of happiness is also finding peace. Shouldn’t we give that to the people we are closest to?

I often end a prying conversation with — let’s leave that for our next one on one (with a fervent wish that half the questions would be forgotten by then).

Shilpa Bhasin Mehra is a legal consultant based in Dubai and the founder of Legal Connect.

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