What to Question
                                   by Dr. Beverly Potter
                             Excerpt from Question Authority; Think for Yourself

Merely taking an opposing view is not thinking for yourself; it is reacting. Questioning authority is not simply being contrary, finding objections solely to object to what is being said. This sort of questioning is mindless. Always taking a contrary position is indicative “oppositional defiant disorder” or ODD—a kind of habitual opposition to whatever an authority says. This is a reflex—a mindless, automatic response—not thinking for yourself. Independent thinking relies on mindfulness to question authority in meaningful and productive ways.


Be Mindful

Mindfulness is a calm, attentive awareness of the situation at hand. It is a state of active, open attention of present events—externally and internally. Assuming a nonjudgmental attitude, take in the words the authoritative person is saying, as well as expressions, tone of voice—like a mental snapshot. Simultaneously, notice your thoughts and feelings about the events, without judging them good or bad.


Mindfulness involves listening to and thoughtfully considering what a person presenting you with information says, taking in their bias, assumptions, inferences and fallacies as part of the “Gestalt”, without responding emotionally. Mindfulness is a presence of mind, attention, noticing—taking in the whole of the speaker’s message—a grocking. “Humm, here’s where he’s coming from.”


The other side of mindfulness is awareness of your own thoughts and feelings about what is going on. Learning to observe your reactions, from afar, dispassionately, helps you to be more clear-headed in your responses, rather than emotional, especially when the speaker’s views grade upon you, violating your values or offend you. Responding reactively generally leaves you looking foolish, or worse.


Practice Mindfulness


While meditation is the traditional way to achieve mindfulness, which does take a commitment and time, you can practice mindfulness any place, even right now, through attentive deep breathing. Simply do what you usually do while focusing your attention on your breathing. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. When breathing in draw the air all the way down to the bottom of your belly. Focus on the sound and rhythm of your breath. Just notice your breathing. Doing this a few times a day will develop your mindfulness.


As your skill builds, practice mindfulness in various settings. Don’t worry. No one will know. For example, you might practice mindfulness while on the phone with a client. Simply carry on the conversation as you normally would—while paying attention. Use a broad type of attention that takes in everything about your client’s voice and presentation, as well as the content. Dispassionately note verbal hesitations, mumbles, throat-clearing. Don’t make judgments or conclusions. Just notice. Simultaneously notice your thoughts, feelings, and sensations—dispassionately. Just practice being attentive while taking it all in.


Thinking is Driven by Questions

Thinking is driven by questions, not answers. Every intellectual field is born out of a cluster of questions to which answers are needed. Had no questions been asked by those who laid the foundation for a field — for example, physics or biology — the field would never have been developed.


We define tasks, express problems and delineate issues with questions. Answers signal an end point, which stops thought, except when an answer generates further questions.


Timothy Leary said “to think for yourself you must question authority”. To think, you must question. To think through or rethink anything, you must ask questions that stimulate thought. The quality of your questions determines the quality of your thinking.


Thinking begins within some content when questions are generated. No questions equals no understanding. To engage in thinking through your content you must stimulate your thinking with questions that lead to further questions.