The other day as I was listening to NPR, I learned of the death of Edwin Schneidman, a pioneer in the study of suicide and founder of one of the nation’s first suicide prevention centers. Working at a time when the study of suicide was shunned, Schneidman believed that two simple questions — “Where do you hurt?” and “How may I help you?” – could begin to diffuse the impulse to self-destruction.
For me, Schneidman’s insight demonstrates a simple, but enormously powerful truth: a question is a mysterious thing. A question is a turn of language indicating an empty space, something unknown and desired. It reaches out of the self to touch another person or thing—to unlock a door of isolation and pain, to see the past, to explore the present, to search for God. Questions direct our inquiry, leading us forward like pathways through the underbrush. Questions inspire us, provoke us, prod us to action. They are tools, they are weapons, they are instruments of love. Questions can make us believe that someone wants to know.
People think a great deal about how to phrase questions to facilitate the smooth and effective exchange of information. How can we learn what we really want to know? How can we get someone else to say what they really want to tell us? How do we ask a good question? A precise question? An open-ended question? A pointed question?
But the real mystery is the question itself. Where does the question come from? How does it work? And can it bridge the space from me to you?
If you travel around Texas, you’ll likely see signs reminding you to “Drive Friendly” (it’s The Texas Way). And for the most part, people here do drive friendly. I haven’t had anyone honk at me or make rude gestures in my direction since we moved, but land o’ Goshen, these folks drive impatient! If Texans had made an appearance In Dante’s Inferno they’d be driving subcompacts with no air conditioning and waiting in long lines. This is the only place I’ve ever been where someone facing you across the intersection and turning left as you turn right will routinely make their turn at the same time you do. (“There’s two lanes, why shouldn’t we go at the same time?”) It’s also the only place I’ve ever seen anyone in the second position of a left turn lane make their turn without waiting for the first car in line to go. Stuff like this will take you by surprise, but you can get used to it.
Folks in Texas will push you. Even in the grocery store, if you don’t put that order divider down on the conveyer belt the instant after you pull your last item out of the cart, you will find an arm reaching clear across your groceries and deep into your personal space to grab that little bar and plop it down between you. Now they’re friendly here, so they may apologize afterwards–but seriously friend, why are you takin’ so long?
I don’t know why Texans are like this. On the face of it, they seem a lot more laid back than the Northern Virginians I grew up with. Maybe it’s because of all that horsepower available at the tap of a foot in a Ford F-250. Or maybe it’s because they’ve got so much distance to travel getting from one place to another in the Lone Star State—they’re just trying to make some time. Or perhaps it’s a remnant in the collective memory of those cattle drives to Abilene—a voice deep within cryin’ “Get along little dogie!”
Whatever the reason, when you come to visit (and we hope you will) you’ll know what to expect. Maintain your speed, keep checking your rearview mirror, and always remember to Drive Friendly.