The questions we ask create the reality we see, so ask the right questions to create a positive life
This week’s Torah portion, Korach, is about one of the most important attempted power-grabs in Jewish history. In the story line, the honors and appointments have long been doled out to Moses and to his brother Aaron, the High Priest. Korach, their cousin, was left out of this honor society and was resentful. However, Moses was untouchable as a leader, so Korach kept his resentment quiet when the delegations were being made.
After the incident with the spies (last week’s Torah reading, Shelach), when the people knew they are not going into the land but were going to die in the desert, it was a time of crisis and unrest. Moses’ ratings were down, thus giving Korach the perfect opportunity to capitalize on the situation and to try to usurp Moses as the leader.
Korach did so by posing a simple question to Moses and Aaron: "The entire community is holy, and G-d is within them; why do you raise yourselves over the congregation of G-d?" Sounds OK – right? Like, if we’re all holy, then what makes you guys so special? I’m every bit as special as you.
Korach even got a few hundred guys to agree with him, because his platform was essentially that he was the champion for the masses, he stood for the little guy, and that everyone is equal - perhaps the first Jewish communist.
But Korach wasn’t looking to make everyone equal. He wasn’t looking to make this an equal opportunity procedure. Korach wanted to be the High Priest, and assuming he were to overthrow Moshe and appoint himself, by the time his groupies figured out that nothing changed for them, well you know what happens in takeovers…..
As fascinating as the story line is (and to find out what happened to Korach, read the Book), what really interests me is the use of the question. When Korach asked, “What makes you holier than me?”, it wasn’t an honest inquiry. He was looking to find fault with Moses, and he was trying to get others to join in, to see reality his way, and he did it through the use of questions, because – and this is important to understand - the reality that we see depends on the questions that we ask.
Why is that? Our brains take in billions of bits of information per second, but it can only process about 40 bits per second, less than an infinitesimal sliver. You know how people can experience the same thing so differently? That is because they are focusing on their selective 40 bits per second. And I use the word “selective” deliberately. We can select which sliver to focus on, and the way we do that is by the questions we ask.
Let’s look at relationships. In the infatuation or romantic phase of a relationship, the part of the brain associated with critical thinking is dysfunctional. When that part of our brain comes back on-line, and critical thinking resumes, we start asking ourselves – “What’s wrong with my spouse? What’s wrong here? What happened to the person I married, etc?” And when we turn these questions inward we create inner shame. The brain doesn’t like unanswered questions and so when you ask a negative question (What’s wrong with me?), your brain will only supply a negative answer (I’m such a loser, mess, etc.).
And while I never tell people to turn a blind eye to problems, the tendency to focus only on problems, to allot our 40-bit sliver of reality to the negative, shuts out all of the good and wonderful aspects of a relationship. It’s as if we are wearing blinders, and if we can’t see it, then these things don’t exist, even if they are right in front of us. Incidentally, I am often asked, why do marriages fail and I think that this must be the answer – that we become very good at being fault-finders, and we lose the ability to see the good.
So, if the questions we ask create the reality we see, it stands to reason that we can change our reality by asking better questions. When you change your question, you change what you are looking for. By understanding this dynamic, you can engineer a more positive life and relationships.
Chassidic thought teaches that there is a seed of greatness in every moment and a spark of holiness in everything – even more so in people. Try looking for it with positive questions. “What is working? What is going well? What is there to be grateful for? When are things good and what factors make it happen? What’s my role in that? What do I do well and how can I do more of that? What are the blessings in this situation? How is this situation calling for me to serve, to act, to change, to grow?”
Here’s the secret, and it’s a phrase well-worn into me by Dr. Tal Ben Shahar: “When we see the good, the good appreciates.” And we see the good by asking good questions.
When Korach looked at Moses, all he could ask was why was he not getting what he wanted, why others were being elevated over him, and why was he being denied what he thought was coming to him. In a situation flowing with lemonade, all Korach could do was make lemons. Let us not make the same mistake. Let us look for the good, see the good, and enjoy the many blessings in our lives.
Question: Think about a stressful situation in your life. What are the questions that you can ask that can create a better reality in your life? Share your story by posting a comment below.
This article was originally published at Jerusalem U. Reprinted with permission from the author.