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The Power of a Question to Shape Discovery

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Mrs. Kirkistan and I have been chatting about those people in our lives who show up with questions rather than answers. These are folks who wonder “Why?” and “How?” about the most ordinary, obvious things. We typically have great conversations with them even as they challenge, occasionally infuriate and often delight us. And quite often their questions and the acts they take to resolve those questions have a way of working into my brain through the week. And I find myself asking questions as well.

I treasure these friends.

I’ve been trying to understand a complicated philosopher whose writing was famously obscure. I recently came across two of his interpreters whose comments helped me flesh out the larger setting for this philosopher’s comments. Mr. Peter Dews and Ms. Diane Perpich helped me understand that there is more to Emmanuel Levinas than the Other and ethics as “first philosophy.” Ms. Perpich, in particular, has helped me begin to see that the stringent obligation Levinas puts on our encounter with the other may function less as an ethics manual and more as provocation. This makes terrific sense when I start to work out the details of my obligation to others (as Levinas might suggest). His comments become directional rather than prescriptive.31WVbhgiiOL._SY320_-04012013

But even with the insights from Mr. Dews and Ms. Perpich, there is something about Mr. Levinas that moves beyond directional-only. His provokements have a way of landing at the most inopportune times: making me question the bosses’ speech in the conference room or the story of the revered leader. Making me wonder at my own treatment of others, from driving to the simplest conversation.

Such provocation seems a good thing—perhaps I’ll be shaken from my comfortable rut.

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Image credit: marikapaprika via 2headedsnake

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Written by kirkistan

April 1, 2013 at 9:29 am

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