Ask The Most Powerful Question

wisdom of elders, ask the most powerful question, what should I know, is there something you want to tell me,

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“I ask once or twice a year,” she told me. “But it’s a powerful question. It should only be used wisely.”

I was interviewing a woman I’ll call Ms. C. for an article on faith and spirituality. She was truly an elder. I don’t mean age-wise, although she appeared to be in her mid-seventies or beyond. By elder I mean the sort of person who lives deeply and gladly passes along what she has learned.

Ms. C. dressed up for our meeting. She wore a navy blue suit and dazzlingly patterned silk shirt, a tiny hat perched on her elaborately coiffed hair, and bright red lipstick that made her dark skin glow. The pants and sweater I’d tossed on looked pretty casual by comparison.

Ms. C talked about seeing the divine in all things. She spoke precisely, with poetic imagery, but also slid easily into humorous retorts. I felt a wondrous enlargement of spirit in her presence and was, frankly, reluctant to end our interview.

Then she mentioned that she employed the most powerful question of all.

I waited to find out what that might be.

She told me that it should be asked only when the questioner felt strong and ready for the answers. And it should only be asked of those who loved you and could be trusted to tell the truth.

She told me she asked her husband (of 42 years) every now and then. She also asked her sisters and close friends, usually when she felt prompted by some unknown impulse.

The question seems simple: “Is there something I should know?”

She said the answers it evokes are rarely simple.

When Ms. C. kept receiving important and sometimes surprising answers to that question it inspired her friends to take up the question too. She gave me a few examples.

~A neighbor was told by everyone she asked that she needed to seek medical help for a condition she thought was under control.

~A friend was advised to stop wearing clothes that were too tight and too young for her.

~A fellow churchgoer found out that his son was back on drugs.

~One person was informed that a long-standing habit of his infuriated his best friend.

~A former co-worker learned that she came across as haughty and cold, and needed to learn how to get past her shyness to let people see her warmth.

~A friend was told that a secret he thought had been buried long ago was out but no one had wanted to break the news to him.

Ms. C. says that she mostly listens to what the Quakers call the “small still voice” inside her but she has one ear open to what else she might need to know.

I tend to think there’s peace right beyond the need of answers but I won’t deny that Ms. C’s question has its uses. Nor will I deny that truth-telling feels wonderfully liberating.

Do you have a truth just itching to get free, if only a certain person would ask you?

And what about truth seeking? Will you be asking the most powerful question?

19 thoughts on “Ask The Most Powerful Question

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful and inspiring post! It reminds me of an important question a friend asked me, at a time when things were very tough for me, when I was nearly overwhelmed with my life’s “to do” list. Instead of telling me what to do, offering to do something in particular or just sympathizing, my friend asked, “How can I help?”


  2. This reminds me of the times when I have asked God to show me my sinfulness. You really have to be ready to see and hear the answer… but if you want to be your best self – you need to ask. (dang)


  3. Long ago, Laura, someone we both know and love used to interrupt me frequently with a combined two-part question: “Are you sure? Why?”

    Imagine all the places that could lead!


    • I imagine that interruption might get annoying. But I don’t think that’s where you were going.

      The longer I hang out on the planet the more I’ve come to see that it might be easy to prove some things, but what we’re really sure of comes from a place deeper than words can encompass. I can’t explain why.


  4. What a fabulous post. I recently asked my readers what I could do to improve my blog and that resulted in some great answers…things I had been ignoring and things I hadn’t even realised were bugging people. That question is incredibly powerful, and I love to met or hear about people who have reached a stage of dignified wisdom – regardless of their age.


  5. I’ve been working on 3 questions, before I speak: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? And trying to teach Nathan, my dear ‘Aspie’ son, to ask himself the same three questions before he speaks. I’m open to ‘anything that I should know’, especially as it relates to the challenges and joys of raising a teen with Asperger’s. …love, love, love your posts!


      • Glad to see the back and forth. Agree. The three questions Kimerly is applying to her life would be great ones to hang up somewhere as a reminder. I may stick them on my bulletin board.


    • Someone told me that those three questions actually stem from ancient Sufi precepts. What wonderful guides to honorable speaking. I’m sure I fail horribly at the “Is it necessary?” question all the time. Well, I hope that’s the only one….

      I have a friend who wasn’t diagnosed as an Aspie until he was well into his 30’s. He says as a teen he formally observed and wrote down his own rules for social interaction based on what the popular kids did. That didn’t work out too well because popular teens get away with behavior other kids can’t. So he modified his rules by observing the smartest kids. He still has his list of rules written in a lined notebook.


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