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A lab-coated investigator places a box on a table before each participant, in turn. “What is in the box? Say whatever you think,” he says, to each one, alone. One person answers “Apples,” because the box says “APPLES” in red block letters. Another notices a word scribbled in marker on a label at one end and says, “Wine Glasses”. A third peeks into the box through a small hole in its side and says “Nothing in there.” Subject #4 lifts, shakes and smells the box, looks into all the torn places and holes, and says, “Clove-studded oranges.” Mr. 5 says, “I have no idea,” and when pressed to say whatever he thinks, laughs and says “I give up. A bomb?”
Finally, #6 answers. “Could be a hamster – there’s an air hole. Might be books, walnuts, tools – anything! How ‘bout a whole series of smaller boxes? Let’s see…there’s air in there, and dirt, probably. If it’s photographs you could say the box is full of memories. Depending on the books in there, that box might ‘contain’ India, or another planet, or a fairy world. What if it’s some high-tech gizmo…then it contains the work of dozens of scientists, years of research, rare earth. Wow! Should I go on??”
#1 used language decoding skill – relying on the accuracy of the label.
#2 did also, but took in a bit more information, held both labels in mind, and made a judgment.
#3 got his senses more fully involved, but didn’t realize the limitation he unconsciously accepted.
#4 used more sensory information, and gave the one correct answer.
#5 used his freedom to resist constraints instead of to play the game.
#6 answered as a child, or a poet might, because the question itself stimulated his imagination. He, following instructions to report “whatever he thought,” tried to report all the mental events triggered by the suggestion, “What might be in a box?”
I offer this scenario by way of explaining why I find it difficult to give short answers to interesting questions.
Case in point: our archbishop recently convened a ‘listening meeting’ to gather input for his ten—year planning process. I would never have presumed to offer any opinions about his management of the archdiocese, or his vision for it, but….he asked. And I began to consider the questions he asked. (What is the archdiocese doing well? What should be our main priorities? What should the archdiocese look like ten years from now?)
The first thing I noticed was that there were huge foundational gaps in my knowledge about the archdiocese. If I were going to picture it ten years along, I’d have to understand its current state better. A list of questions I’d like to ask developed from those gaps. Then, in my imaginary leap to “What would you say if the Archbishop was interested in your thoughts?” I discovered a wealth of material that didn’t quite fit into the three-question, one-paragraph format I’d been offered. Hence, a list of questions I wish he had asked.
Finally, set loose to create my own vision of our archdiocese, ten years older and wiser, I came up with lots of ideas. I had no idea what to do with all this outside-the-box response, and considered just keeping it to myself to save trouble for Self and the Bish’. But, it was all there, and such things, in my experience, do not go away. They beg to be at least typed and file away so as to free mental space for other work. And when I considered tucking those lists away and going on with my life, I really wished I could do it! (After all, when one knows one’s response is likely to be of little use to the recipient, to be a pain in his neck, or to be considered ridiculous and childish, one prefers to crawl under a rock with it!) But then, there’s that nagging sense that you are what you are, and God made you that way, and if nobody else answers in this way, it might be even more important that you do, and if everybody takes his response and files it the Archbishop will get nothing in the way of feedback at all.
So, a quick cover letter of explanation (“I’m a good girl, I am! This is not a challenge, or a rebellion, or a demand, or a joke, but a real offering.”), enclose the three lists, and I’m done. I won’t write out my answers to the questions I wish he had asked unless he expresses some desire to see them. Sigh…. By now, though, the Q’s had provoked A’s – one thing leads to another, and so now I’m actually interested in what my answers are, whether he is or not.
This is where I make room for my own thoughts, where I ‘essay,’ or try out my ideas. So, this is where I’ll post my responses, in case anyone is interested. Here’s a pdf of the Q’s and anyone is welcome to give your own A’s – to your pals, to me, to the Archbishop. If I were really leading an archdiocese, I’d want everyone’s responses. I might have to get help reading and sifting out main streams of thought, but I’d want the input. If he doesn’t (and I can’t imagine he’d have time for all this!), it’s all the same to me. This has been a good thinking exercise for me, so I’m happy. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy. Watch this space for my Q’s and A’s in the weeks to come. Consider writing up your own responses, and do suggest Q’s you wish the Archbishop had asked us.
This is Part One
…it is difficult for poets to remain acceptable or contented party men; they ask too many questions.
Dorothy Sayers, in the Introduction to her translation of Dante’s Purgatorio