The other day, I spotted a trail of ants, crossing my patio, and disappearing into the planter. I watched these little creatures cross my yard, not organized, occasionally colliding, but moving with purpose. The little creatures, biologically programmed, marched on a mission of survival, securing food. No cognitive thought, no conscious goal, no struggles with laziness, or dissatisfaction with bosses—they just marched. As humans, we operate differently. We have cognitive powers. We think; we create complex plans and address complex problems. Sometimes, we need to stop and question everything.
Cognition, essential to manage complexity, is a mixed blessing. Cognitions create meaning. Dancing thoughts demand a reason—a meaning to their madness; we must know why. Yet lost in the sea of reasons, we settle for simplicity, ignoring the complexity of intertwining causes behind actions.
“The current state of the world has many of us rethinking everything — our politics. our families. our jobs. our hobbies. our vices. our virtues. our quarrels. our enemies. our friends. our plans.”
We get lost in the competitive race to get more; we get up early and work late. But are dumbfounded when others inquire the reasons we need more. For nearly two decades, I commuted on sixty miles of crowded freeways. The term “rat race” aptly describes the thousands of motorists jarring for position, weaving through traffic, to save a few seconds from their commutes.
“Questions open a space in your mind that allow better answers to breathe.”
Take Time to Ask Questions
We blindly march back and forth in habitual routines seemingly content to let unknown factors determine the outcomes of our lives.
Many years ago, my oldest child curiously asked endless streams of questions. He would string together questions, digging deeper and deeper into meaning. His young mind was curious. Why are we getting into the car? Why are we going to the store? and why do we eat? On and on, his rapid-fire questions would come. One day, perhaps, short on patience, I commented, “aren’t you a little question man.” He pause for a moment then asked, “what’s a question man?” I told my grandson this story about his dad. He now likes to play the role of question man.
We could use more questioning men and women, stopping the blind march to ask a few probing questions. Rod Judkins wrote, “A creative person is by nature a questioner. They are driven by doubt, curiosity and wonderment” (2013).
Our daily routines are full of automated actions, freeing cognitive energy. We don’t need to waste time pondering the biomechanics of digestion, nutrients, and energy when we go to the store for milk and eggs. We notice the eggs are gone and the milk empty; without thought, we grab the keys and go.
Our conscious mind has limited capacity. Habits, thinking heuristics, and biases assist in filling the voids. Attention focuses on threats without conscious directions; but when the action lulls and life slows down, the wise return to the event to gather understanding. Other times, comfort permeates our days, no eminent threats of the horizon to draw attention, during the calmness our minds may wander—to the unproductive fields where futures are destroyed, and dreams are smashed.
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
Structure and Chaos
We must examine habitual behaviors, devoid of thought, for balance. Unmonitored action may destroy careers, families, intimacy, and dreams. The actions may not appear disastrous—even appearing mundane. But the small, simple behaviors accumulate and powerfully impact our lives. Examining the little reactions and every day habits, we wisely interrupt destructive paths, and seek better avenues to add meaning and richness to life.
At first, recognizing blindly followed routines may shock the examiner. From new macro-perspectives, we painfully notice monotony. Waking to the morning alarm, driving to work, getting paid, and doing chores on the weekend. Life has become a routine, missing the richness of experience. Millions joining in the monotony of survival, driving varying distances just to turn around and drive home at the end of the day—cogs in the wheel of massive profit and loss machines. In many ways, we resemble the ants in the garden.
“It is our questions that fuel and drive our thinking. Many problems arise from making assumptions. If you assume, you think you know when you probably don’t.”~Rod Judkins M.A., RCA | Psychology Today
When Chaos Prevails
Conversely, many abandon the structured walls of habitual and structured behaviors only for chaos to dominate their lives—some structure is essential. If we look a little deeper, past the habitual patterns, we might discover meaning, uncovering the richness of human cognition.
Inhabiting each car on the crowded roadway is a person; each possessing their own collection of joys and sorrows. When traffic slows, I occasionally glance into the private chambers of others’ worlds—the solitary cabins of their cars. The morose expressions, the joyous laughs, each tell deeper stories.
“You can still question things, but if you begin skipping out on life to question it, you have already begun to die.”~John Gorman
The complex life of others constantly surrounds us. Behind outer expressions are layers of untold stories—peace, happiness, sadness, anger, bitterness, loneliness, heartbreak, concern, compassion. Some are battling debilitating diseases, others absorbed in abusive relationships; many basking in joys of a recent success, while others recovering from devastating failures. Look around, open your eyes, we are surrounded; Ordinary people fighting addictions.
The waves of emotions—joys and sorrows—flow through the everyday lives of our fellow travelers. Do you see them? Feel their aliveness? We are not alone in struggles or in triumphs. Billions of people each struggling, enjoying, and making their way through life the best they know how.
The wisdom of questioning everything is we paint ourselves into a corner. Many of our beliefs operate unconsciously in the background, sorting, and editing new incoming information. We often use our knowledge not as a means to logically and clearly interpret incoming facts but to adjust and transform incoming facts to fit our preconceived beliefs.
I would suggest we need to think like a scientist except scientist are also prone to transforming information to fit their unconscious beliefs, they just do so using scientific jargon.
A Time to Stop Questioning and Start Living
Just as John Gorman warns in the quote above, there is time where questions interfere with a flourishing life. We need some stability—a solid piece of ground to stand on. We need some security, trusting in some fundamental features of our lives.
I upset a man once after he commented, “I believe in nothing. Nothing in life can be trusted.” I insensitively responded, “that’s an interesting belief.” The truth is we have beliefs, whether we acknowledge them or not. We have foundational guides that determine how we process all the other information. Basically, flourishing requires adopting foundational beliefs that propel us forward and not imprison us to blindness.
Finding the middle ground between questioning and accepting is our task.
Take time during your survival march, peer through your daily routines to see a little more, examining the richness of life surrounding us. Accordingly, a few mindful observations build stronger connections to the community, lifting noxious judgments. By knowing others experience pain, joy, sorrow and anger we feel less alone and more connected. Consequently, these expanding connections—beyond our immediate circle—transform our experience of living. Not just blindly marching but actively living.
Judkins, Rod (2013). Question Everything. Everywhere. Forever. Psychology Today. Published 11-8-2013. Accessed 6-17-2023.