The professor of my freshman Anthropology class walked in the first day and drew a circle on the board. He pointed to the inside of the circle and told us it represented how much we knew. Next he pointed to the outside of the circle and told us that was how much we did not know. Then he pointed to the chalk line of the circle and explained it represented how much we understood we did not know. He said that over the next four years we would learn a lot, and the size of the circle would grow and with it the understanding of how little we knew.
One of the best ways to learn is through questions. Children discover very quickly that through asking questions, they can learn about their world. Many children begin with simple questions like What dat? as they explore their surroundings. As they learn, they progress to questioning why the world is as it is. My favorite questions were “why” questions: Why is the sky blue? My brother favored the more complicated “what if” questions: What if it the sky was green? Usually one question would lead to increasingly more difficult questions: Why is the sky blue? Why does the sun shine through the air? Why is the sun made of gas? What if the sun was made of rocks? At some point my parents would give the answer to end all questions: “Because that’s just the way it is.”
As we get older, we tend to ask questions less frequently. We do not want to admit we do not know something that everyone else may know; we do not want to be embarrassed. Even in school, where we are supposed to learn, we do not want to stand out as the one that does not know as much as the rest of the class. It is easier to stay quiet and look knowledgeable.
Back in college, a woman in my computer science classes questioned everything. In our freshman and sophomore years, her questions were very basic, almost to the point of repeating what that professor said. By sophomore year, she was well known and as soon as her hand went up, people would start mumbling and fidgeting. Then, in our junior year, her questions changed. They became very detailed and incisive. She had learned so much from her questions the previous years that she now understood more than the majority of the class. When she asked a question, that question would generate others and soon the discussion would be at a depth that the professor had not anticipated. By the end of senior year, she was one of the top students in the department. Through her willingness to question, she learned more than most of us.
I am finding that the longer I practice yoga, the more questions I have. At first my questions were about how to do poses. As my practice deepened, the “why” questions started to appear: Why do we do a pose this way? Why does this pose stretch the hamstrings differently than that pose? Why does this pose create a sense of calm and why is that pose more energizing? Usually the answers to questions such as these would elicit others. As I began to delve into anatomy and philosophy, my circle of knowledge increased and so did my questions. Many times I can find the answers to the questions on my own through physically playing with poses or researching in books, but when that fails, I find others I can ask.
With any subject we are interested in, from gardening to astrophysics, the more we learn, the more interested we tend to become. I am always happy when someone asks a question in class. It shows a curiosity beyond the fear of embarrassment that most adults feel in a group and that something has tweaked a student’s interest. So, when you have a question, be bold and expand your circle rather than concluding “that’s just the way it is.”
Never stop asking Why is the sky blue?