In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a super-intelligent race, on a far-off world, programs a computer to come up with the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. Dubbed Deep Thought, the computer churns away for 10,000 years, and finally announces, with all the dignitaries of the civilization gathered:
The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is … 42
With dismay, the wisest of the wise realized their error: they had forgotten to program the computer to come up with the question!
This is the way life is; the questions are always more important — and more interesting — than the answers. The questions frame the conversation, like a number line in 3-dimensional space; the answers merely tell you were you are on that line.
You Can Try This at Home
Learning to change the question will shift the conversation to a new realm where answers yield results with relative ease.
- Why does she complain about the way I do the dishes? can become When did I last buy her flowers?
- Why doesn’t my boss give me enough respect? can become How can I make my boss’ job easier?
- Why am I so lonely? can become What hobby excites me?
- Should I stay or should I go? can become What do I feel?
Some questions resist being answered, no matter how hard we try. Shifting the conversation is like relaxing your grip so that you can find a better hold.
What difficult questions are you facing? How can you shift the conversation?
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.— Ranier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet