Crossposted at AThousandThingsToTalkAbout.com
In the last 208 weeks, I’ve asked my friends a thousand questions. Quite literally. Starting January 14, 2013, I posted a question to my Facebook page for no reason other than to get people’s opinions. The conversation was interesting, so the next day I did the same thing. And again. And continued asking a question intended to spark conversation every weekday thereafter.
In 1,456 days, I’ve asked 1,000 unique questions – and a few dozen duplicates. My little list of 380 or so Facebook friends have posted well over 10,000 comments engaging in discussion on topics ranging from ESP to love, comfort food to political office, and just about everything in between. I’ve got people on my friends list that cover the spectrum in just about every sense of the word, and I have never had to moderate or intervene to keep it civil.
I didn’t have a particular reason for starting this project, other than curiosity about what my friends thought about the things that really didn’t have any other reason to come up. In the beginning, it wasn’t even really a project, just a thing that I did.
In very late 2014, I pulled statistics for the first 500 questions and discovered some interesting tidbits — that the most controversial topic of those 500 was blood donation, for example. I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the topics, but I did know I wanted to do something. Several incarnations of various projects were experimented with.
In 2016, I started A Thousand Things to Talk About, a podcast based on those questions. I went all the way back to the very first question and started there, offering 2-3 minutes, every weekday, of research into what was behind each topic, and still quite purposefully not offering my own opinion. I am more interested in what everyone else thought.
I also started pulling the list of questions – eventually each printed on an individual card – out at family events, networking soirees, and social gatherings. I’ve always learned something new and interesting, even about people that I’ve known for years. Previously awkward situations even started settling into respectful, intriguing group conversations I didn’t want to end.
Through 208 weeks, 1,000 questions, more than 10,000 comments, over 250 podcast episodes, more than 28,000 downloads, and lots of conversations, I’ve come to one big conclusion: questions are a key.
Research tells us (a phrase very familiar to anyone who listens to my podcast) that getting to know someone is about making a connection, listening, and identifying with them in some way, shape, or form. Every answer is a chance to engage in conversation with ourselves and others. Every conversation is a chance to develop empathy, understanding, connections, and networks.
To me, questions are a key. Not to any particular lock, but instead to our shared humanity, because they invite connection.
To me, questions are a key. Not to any particular lock, but instead to our shared humanity, because they invite connection. That’s been one of the best things about this particular project; watching social networks of otherwise unconnected people emerge and grow through a shared experience that wouldn’t have existed had someone not simply created space in which it was OK to share a small part of one’s self.
I don’t think questions will solve for world peace, or suddenly make us all perfect people. I do think that asking questions will almost always be a better place to start than making statements, and if my questions help grease a few of those conversational wheels, all the better. I will continue asking questions, professionally and personally, and look forward to what the next 208 weeks might bring.
All of which is really a lead up. In all truth, I’m curious: what’s the best question someone has ever asked you?