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During a tutoring session, a student asked if she could interview me for an assignment. As tutors, we have certain boundaries in place, so I asked her what the interview was for. She explained that it was for another assignment, so I agreed to the interview, seeing no major rule violations. While we are only supposed to tutor on one assignment at a time, our students often have big assignments broken down into smaller, grade-able steps. So I don’t mind bending the rules to prioritize a student’s academic needs.

The student asked me a question that seemed like a false dichotomy: “Would you rather have ‘freedom and chaos’ or ‘order and peace’?” I looked past this for the sake of the hypothetical and answered that I would prefer “order with peace.” The student followed up with another question that felt like a high-pressure interrogation tactic: “So you would give up free will for peace?” I clarified that free will is inalienable, and the student then asked me about perfectionism, wondering if it is a burden on society. I explained that perfection is a social construct and that it may affect some people but not everyone. However, the fact that we have laws and regulations suggests that life is inherently imperfect.

Although I apologized to the student for not answering her questions in a way that fit the framing of her assignment, I also explained why her questions were loaded and faulty and how they could limit her understanding as a researcher. Despite this, the student found my answers valuable and said she would include them in her essay. I used this moment to emphasize to the student the importance of asking the right questions as the foundation for good research. As she progresses through college, she will learn how to distinguish helpful questions from unhelpful ones, and practicing research in a safe environment is valuable to a student’s growth.

In my personal experience, I have found that not asking questions can lead to drawing conclusions based solely on personal observations. A life without deliberate, ongoing, and systematic questioning is problematic. When we do not stop to ask questions, we become semi-conscious ricochets, bouncing between observations and drawing conclusions without framing our thinking with questions. And when we do ask questions, they tend to be self-serving. However, taking a moment to pause, pray, reflect, or meditate can help us tap into our free will and ask important questions. Free will is a mysterious force that comes from a deep place inside of us and allows us to change our trajectory from one of cursory looks to one of thorough inquiry.

Questions are important because they promote self-awareness, thinking, and reflection. The quality of our questions is directly connected to the quality of our life’s journey, just as much as they are directly connected to quality research. Good questions, like those found in good research, advance our thinking and lead us toward truth.

Photo Credit: Sarony & Major. (1846). Popping the question. Library of Congress. Retrieved May 3, 2023, from

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