highly questionable practices

I wonder if
when we first …

… arrived here,
something whispered
in our ear,
Welcome to …

… the Asylum of Answers?

~  ~  ~

It was said in late lore that Hera or Ares sent the Sphinx … to Thebes in Greece where she asks all passersby the most famous riddle in history:

Which creature
in the morning goes on four legs,
at mid-day on two,
and in the evening upon three,
and the more legs it has,
the weaker it be?

She strangled and devoured anyone unable to answer

… Oedipus solved the riddle by answering: Man—who crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two feet as an adult, and then walks with a cane in old age

“Bested at last, the tale continues, the Sphinx then threw herself from her high rock and died. An alternative version tells that she devoured herself

Perhaps the sphinx has been given a bad rap.

You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions” ~Naguib Mahfouz

Perhaps Oedipus was a very clever, stupid man.

Or perhaps Oedipus was a joke.

A very bad joke.

“Thus Oedipus can be recognized as a “liminal” or threshold figure…

… helping effect the transition between the old religious practices, represented by the death of the Sphinx, and the …

… rise of the new, Olympian gods(wiki)

What happened when Oedipus ‘busted’ the sphinx?

The foundational stories we tell about Western Civilisation are stories of trauma.  Oedipus is wounded & abandoned by his parents, who drive a stake through his feet (hence the name Oedipus, which means “swollen foot”) &  … leave the baby on a hillside to die.  Oedipus is fated to kill his father, Lauis & marry his mother Jocasta” ~ Birth of Pleasure Carol Gilligan

The tale goes from bad to worse with Oedipus eventually …

… blinding himself, his mother/wife hanging herself, their two sons killing each other & another daughter hanging herself …

Why the repeated strangulation of the women I wonder?

The name ‘sphinx’ which means ‘strangler‘ was first given by the Greeks to a fabulous creature which had the head of a woman and the body of a lion and the wings of a bird.  She is mythicised as treacherous and merciless. Those who cannot answer her riddle suffer a fate typical in such mythological stories, as they are killed and eaten by this ravenous monster

What if Oedipus got it all wrong?

Among the Egyptians, sphinxes were placed at the entrance of the temple to guard the mysteries, by warning those who penetrated within, that they should conceal a knowledge of them from the uninitiated

What if the correct response to the sphinx was not to answer the question, but to question the questioner?

What if Oedipus doomed mankind to its traumatic fate because he would not ask his own questions?

If you want to know who rules the world
look no farther than those
who formulate the questions.

When other’s decide your questions,
they also ‘own‘ your answers.

During the behind-the-scenes conversations of our recent show, there was an exploration into just what was  happening within our dialogue that allowed such immense changes, within a very short space of time.

One thing I had noticed was that there were times when a question was posed, that my mind would go a complete blank.  Instead of struggling to answer as I would feel obliged to in ‘normal’ life, I felt free to say that “I could not answer” & then ask for the question to be rephrased.

This put the responsibility back where it belonged – where it should always belong – on the questioner.

I would like to suggest that one of the greatest barriers to human re-connection lies in our unrecognised addiction to …

… Question Abuse.

The fallout from un-thought-out questions, detonated around the world on a daily basis makes the …

… Tsar Bomba pale in comparison.

What if the Sphinx’s enigma was actually a …

… cautionary tale
& not
a riddle
at all?

A tale to warn of the dangers
brought upon ourselves when we ingest
pesticidal questions.

Let’s suggest that if a question cannot be responded to, with ease, it is because the question is …

unfit for human consumption
& needs to be sent back to its cook,

Let’s go a step further & wonder…

What if questions have a power
to strangle?

Funny isn’t it,
they come from the throat …

& then so often,
for the throat’.

Is this what the fate of the women in the Oedipus tale
was warning us?

Through the enforcing of questions
our culture has been moulded into a
Cult of (right) Answers.

That is damnably stupid & dangerous.

From their earliest days, humans are herded into …

… answering (correctly).

Whether a human is rewarded or shamed isn’t really important –
what matters is that they
learn to place

… on a pedestal.

I grew up with a grudge against my mouth – it failed me time & time again – never giving the correct answer, when it really mattered – the answers that would have made my mother understand or get people to like me & allow me into their world – the way it was in reality on the tv, when everyone always said the right thing.

It’s only so very recently that I have seen that it was not me, my mouth or my ‘messed-up’ answers that were faulty – it was the questions.

What madness is it that causes a civilisation
to …

idolise answers?

What madness is it that causes a civilisation
to …

… daily/hourly swallow pre-packaged answers?

How did we allow ourselves to be tricked into believing that:

Answers = Intelligence?

Perhaps there is a tie-in to trauma-generated genetic-memories of humanity … 

… when giving the wrong answer led straight to
torture & death.

But we really have to smarten up.

 Here are some monkeys to help us begin to make sense of our stupidity.

Enculturated apes Kanzi, Washoe, Sarah … underwent extensive language training programs … successfully learned to answer quite complex questions and requests (including question words “whowhat“, “where“) …

… although so far they failed to learn how to ask questions themselves … “Though she [Sarah] understood the question, she did not herself ask any questionsunlike the child who asks interminable questions, such as What that? Who making noise? When Daddy come home? Me go Granny’s house? Where puppy? …

… Sarah never delayed the departure of her trainer after her lessons by asking where the trainer was going, when she was returning, or anything else

To answer is simple,
to question divine?

What if Answer Worship has been deployed as an insanely clever process of devolution.

The questions which one asks oneself begin, at least, to illuminate the world, and become one’s key to the experience of others” James” ~ A. Baldwin

There is frequently more to be learned from the unexpected questions of a child than the discourses of men” ~John Locke

If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes~Albert Einstein

Those are great quotes.

But we didn’t go down that road.

Why ever not?

Instead we were schooled into answering.

If questions decide ‘who rules’ we’d better taker a closer look.

Kudos to Michael for pointing out that a question mark reminded him of…

… the grim reaper’s sickle/scythe.

We may also see …

… a hook.

Both point to death & that’s just begging for closer scrutiny.

Lynne Truss attributes an early form of the question mark to Alcuin of York. Truss describes the punctus interrogativus of the late 8th century as “a lightning flash, striking from right to left”.” (wiki)

Those familiar with the Celtic Rebel’s work will have found that of interest.

Here’s a little more on Alcuin of York, nicknamed Albinus (“white”) or …

“Flaccus” – variously interpreted as meaning “big ears”, “flop ears”, “floppy”, or “fatty”.

Alcuin of York …  (730s or 740s – 19 May 804) …

… was an English scholar, ecclesiastic, poet and teacher … At the invitation of Charlemagne, he became a leading scholar and teacher at the Carolingian court … “The most learned man anywhere to be found” …  he is considered among the most important architects of the Carolingian Renaissance. Among his pupils were many of the dominant intellectuals of the Carolingian era.

… From 782-790, Alcuin taught Charlemagne himself, his sons, … the young men sent to be educated at court and the young clerics attached to the palace chapel.

Charlemagne was a master at gathering the best men of every land in his court … It seems that he made many of these men his closest friends and counsellors. They referred to him as ‘David’, a reference to the Biblical king David. Alcuin soon found himself on…

… intimate terms with Charlemagne and the other men at court …

Alcuin’s friendships also extended to the ladies of the court, especially the queen mother and the king’s daughters. His relationships with these women never reached the intense level of those of the men around him. Modern commentators, have identified the homo-erotic tone of some of Alcuin’s poetry, emphasising the spiritual and idealistic aspects of his love for his friends and his pupils.

Back to the subject of death for a mo – here’s the man who went all to pieces – look what interesting crook-shape (?) he carries in his mitts …

The Crook and Flail are the emblems

… of Osiris … held across the chest of the Pharaoh … It [the crook] symbolized the very concept of rule and was even employed as the hieroglyph for the word “rule“.

Few objects are as closely associated with the rulers’ dominion over Egypt as the crook and the flail. Of Osiris … it was said in the Book of the Dead:

The White Crown is set on your head. You seized the crook and the flail when you were (still) in the womb and had not (yet) emerged onto the earth.”

After the king took possession of the regalia upon his accession they remained with him all his life and even in the beyond. They were instrumental in the renewal of the king’s powers.

The gods shown wielding the crook and the flail are rulers

When other’s decide your questions, they also ‘own‘ your answers.

Another ‘crook-holding-question-asking-reaper’ …

… was this lad.

100 Questions that Jesus asked and YOU must answer

The key is simply this: Answer the Question! Among the many things Jesus did, he asked a lot of questions! And whenever you read the Gospels and Jesus asks a question, answer it! Do not wait to see what Peter or Magdalene, or the Pharisees or the crowd say for an answer. You answer the question, in your own words

Roy Zuck wrote a book called Teaching as Jesus Taught and identified fifteen reasons that Jesus asked questions. Here is his list for your consideration: –

To cause someone to recall facts, To promote conversation, To point out something that isn’t true, To get agreement, To push for an expression of faith, To prod for an opinion, To prove faith and commitment, To promote reflection and thinking, To persuade critics of error, To pull people up, To pour out emotions, To reveal motives, To prick the conscience, To pinpoint a topic, To press for the application of the truth.

When other’s decide your questions, they also ‘own‘ your answers.

How often have you felt backed into a corner by a question?

And worse, how often have you backed someone else into a corner with yours?  We’ve all done it.

I found I wasn’t asking good enough questions because I assumed I knew something. I would box them into a corner with a badly formed question, and they didn’t know how to get out of it …” ~Alan Alda

There is a whole world we are missing out on because we have been misled in the formulation & use, of questions.

Mind you, the fact that we all come to all our conversations …

… armed to the teeth,
doesn’t really help any either.

I’m beginning to wonder if questions target a particular part of our immune system, & with each unwilling answer dragged from us, it diminishes it a little more.

Make no mistake,
questions …

… break

… people.

All too often that’s what they’re designed to do.

Interrogation … commonly employed by officers of the police, military, and Intelligence agencies with the goal of extracting a confession or obtaining information

Police interrogators are highly trained in psychological tactics

the fact that detectives sometimes end up with confessions from the innocent testifies to their expertise in psychological manipulation

I reckon the majority of our current questions are manipulative – designed simply for the use by us, the questioner.  I should think that most often what is happening is below conscious awareness – not surprising since no one taught us  to question our questions.

Reasons may include my wishing to feel more comfortable around someone e.g

  • are you in the same social group as ME?
  • if not are you above or below ME?
  • what do you think of ME?
  • do you have anything in common with ME?

Without realising it, we have been taught to interact with others through methods that may equate to in-terror-gation.

These power-over methods may be highly addictive – even a joker knows that.

The Riddler’s criminal modus operandi is so deeply ingrained into his personality that he is virtually powerless to stop himself from acting it out … He cannot simply kill his opponents when he has the upper hand; he has to put them in a deathtrap to see if he can devise a life and death intellectual challenge that the hero cannot solve and escape

If we have not experienced the life force that comes through real conversation, we may mistake this power-over for what we are missing.

The Riddler’s name, Edward Nigma tells us what the damaged question mark really looks like:

The Riddler = Edward Nigma

Edward Nigma = “A grimed wand
which is what …

this becomes
when we abuse it.

It is completely possible for us to begin to communicate with each other the way we are meant to, & hunger for.  It wasn’t meant to be this way:

these white brother will steal everything from us but our spirits ..

… The great dark shadow of the ravenous bird of death has fallen over the people.

This question & answer formula that we have lived by is fake – it serves an agenda that is not ours:

These are the type of questions we are used to hearing from journalists. They are not requests for information so much as an attempt to place the PM in a difficult position

Journalists and the general public ask questions of their leaders for different reasons. Journalists need stories to publish”

Here’s a salesman who has some wisdom to impart:

Sellin’ ain’t tellin’, askin’ is.” I heard this simple but true homily years ago … this … has been one of the most powerful and useful lessons I’ve ever learned … The person asking questions is always in control of a discussion. This control can be used gracefully … or it can be abused.

 Questions are the keys to unlock the vaults of information, needs, wants and emotions … Use the word ‘feel’ with women & they’ll tell you what they think …Use the word ‘think’ with men & they’ll tell you how they feel.

 … there are two critical ingredients … The first is trust. You have to build a pattern of behavior that will allow a person to trust you. Trust comes from asking good questions, consistent behavior and keeping your commitments. The second is empathy. This relates to how much you really care. It does not matter what level of education a person has they seem to know if another person is real or not

If you think sculpting questions is easy, please print out the sign below & staple it to your forehead:

A powerful question
simple and clear
thought provoking
Generates energy
Focuses inquiry
Challenges assumptions
Opens new possibilities
Evokes more questions

However a good question can change your life.

And a great question may change the world.

There is a delicacy & lightness-of-touch to ‘live’ questions that belies their power – they are like small children, our very own children – that once ‘spoken’ have left home & gone out into the world, for better or for worse.

Philosophers are adults who persist in asking childish questions” ~ Isaiah Berlin

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers” ~Voltaire

My whole life is waiting for the questions to which I have prepared answers” ~Tom Stoppard

You mustn’t always believe what I say. Questions tempt you to tell lies, particularly when there is no answer.” Pablo Picasso

Questions may free us or choke us & those we interact with.

It matters a lot that we understand this

To finish this article I asked my friends Katherine & Michael if they could come up with a quick list of examples of when they struggle with questions:

K: if i feel like the question is an attack….like they are trying to get me to answer a certain way, almost like it’s a weapon

M: yea thats what I meant, your answer isnt an option

k: oh….and when it’s really vague

M: when its an accusation, like “did you do ____?” “do you think that _____?”

K: i like the accusation one……like if someone is implying something in the question or like “are you still mad at me?” 

M: yup

M: or if the question is asked as an opener for them to push their “agenda”

K: yeah, or to belittle your views

M: yes your answer doesnt matter then, they just want an excuse to say what they wanted to and give the illusion that its a conversation, but its really just them talking at you, not with you

K: when it’s really personal…..so even if i know the answer i don’t want to give it, but then feel guilty about not saying it yea I understand this

K: oh or when they are disapproving….i guess sort of like “oh you really do/think/feel etc??” or condescending

M؟: yea

K: i get this a lot since i don’t watch TV or newer movies “You’ve never seen that, REALLY?!?!”

M: lol

M: when the question is demanding an immediate answer and not an explanation because they dont want to understand you then, they want something from you even if its just an answer they’re demanding it right then and there

January 31, 2012. Uncategorized.


  1. Michael replied:

    Wonderful write up Alex. One thing that came to mind as I read the famous riddle, the old man needed a cane to continue “living”. To keep walking the earth. It seems to have just assisted him to death. Grounded by a sickle, it was needed to walk until he was layed to rest.

    Was glad to contribute in any way I could, looking forward to where the research takes you next. ;)


  2. Katherine replied:

    Thank you, Alex, for this great piece and for questioning questions :)

    The more I think about “?” and the effect questions have on conversations, the more I realize how strangling they can be…especially when they are what you so fittingly call “pesticidal questions” (LOVE this term, BTW!)

    I’m ready to ask and be asked questions, which allow room for growth. Exploratory questions, which allow for us to create the answers…or at the very least play around with different ideas as possible answers, rather than being WRONG if unable to offer what is deemed the appropriate answer right away.


  3. paulo replied:



  4. Rachel replied:

    Great article Alex, well done. You know what I mean?

    So many of us give the answer that the questioner wants to hear so they can move on to the next crap question with the only one answer they want to hear!!
    Rach xx


  5. Mick replied:

    Couldn’t resist:


  6. James B replied:

    Alex, great work. As soon as I realised what this post was about, the police immediately sprang to mind. One of the pieces of advice I always give out when it comes to the police is to always be the one asking the questions. The master asks questions, and the servant answers them. More topsy-turvy modern society, where the public servant manipulates themselves into the position of public master by asking questions. How many Holey Wood films have you seen where some cop says “hey, we’ll ask the questions around here.”?

    Listening to people talk/argue, especially people much younger than me, I notice that so many questions are just a combination of accusations and assumptions, the literal answer already known to asker and asked, with all the true intent conatined within the timing and tone of the question. It’s the theatre of our lives.

    Also, the Question, beginning with Q, the insemination. Should questions not inseminate our minds and cause a life to grow? The Quest, beginning of a journey.
    Thank you for having the courage and wisdom to ask the metaquestion!


  7. Michael Skaggs replied:

    Another great piece of questioning! Very good to see the ‘flow here’ in the article. It reminds me of the introduction of a simple phrase from a chap named “Gavin”, “Question everything, believe nothing.” Something that has stuck with me for quite sometime now.

    Cheers Alex!


  8. eugene replied:

    Sphinx as strangler.
    Sphincter as orifice.
    Orifice as light door.
    Each is a selective eating.
    Eyes eat seen light.
    Ears eat heard light.
    Nose eats breathed light.
    Mouth eats light captured.
    Each is a sliver doer.
    The first Genesis question is..
    “Who said you cant eat of the tree?”
    It is pleasing to the eyes.
    It smells wonderful.
    It will taste great.
    It will feel exhilarating.
    It sounds upon breaking.
    It is the question that draws Brahma into Maya.
    Each answer is the closing sound of an exited door.
    Once the next room is entered there is another question.
    A quest I on.
    On a donkey I go.
    If I frame who, what, when, where, why?
    I get madder as I go.
    At each answer others are made.
    My face on each, we fight.
    My cheeks feel the windy wheel.
    Brama and I upside down.
    He is alone; I with everyone else.
    A wonder wanderer.
    A self becoming hoot owl.
    Nay pelican feeding its young.
    Better off in silence.
    Good luck.


  9. tom cuddy replied:

    I too have asked a question; what is a leader? An older dictionary had a great short answer, guidance and control. In elaborating, the guide is someone you trust, has a proven visible record of success. I see a softer and rarer form of control in the guide. Control is earned or gently manifest within the mind. Let me say less coerced than the control that seems to follow those whose power sources from a title. Therein the spiral to domination begins to suffer itself upon the controlled. We meet these people everyday. The game is to not be them or be engaged by them. Today is a culture of controllers. Questioners are often shouted down, suffocated and ignored. The prize is the mind. Isn’t a frown, just a more difficult smile?

    The play continues, play on…
    Much more love


  10. Max replied:



    Hammer and sickle = Symbols of oppression?

    Judges are using hammers.

    Trap a defendant in coffin by enSickling with questions during the cross examination.
    Close the coffin by hammering nails into it with your judgement.

    I know the old question game, as you described it, just too well, Alex.
    No helping for growth. Just for ensuring that one stays in line.


    -> http://quake.wikia.com/wiki/Stroggification
    (WARNING: Image on bottom of article contains depiction of corpses, covered in blood. Take care while scrolling down)


  11. alex robinson replied:

    Thanks for your thoughts & your help Michael,

    It does seem that one thing we can be (almost) sure of, is that this road that we have been on leads to death – & the tools we have been given are the tools of the executioner & the undertaker. We have NOT been loved by our ‘owners’ on this planet.

    very best to you

    Heya Kat,

    I think I just might enjoy a conversation with you :]

    Once you’ve been part of living dialogues, you just can’t go back, & you see far more clearly, if & where one is possible. The laying down of weapons & shields is a must – it’s so sad to think that most people come together with those ‘poised’ just in case. The ‘language of attack’ is the ‘language of trauma’ – because we have all been traumatised it feels natural, but it is not – strangulation is neither natural or human.

    Many thanks for your help :]

    Paulo – thanks ducky :]

    Heya Rach

    Agreed, honestly I loathe giving ‘correct’ answers – feels like what a sheep must feel like when its herded into a pen – I think you know what I mean :] xx

    Cheers Mick – haven’t seen that Monty Python one for ages, had a lot of chuckles :]



  12. alex robinson replied:

    “The master asks questions, and the servant answers them” – well put James.
    There’s almost a tangible feel of one-upmanship with so many questioners – it’s really unpleasant, it seems domination & control is the driving force, & so the subtlety & delicacy of communication never get a look in.

    A good question is indeed the beginning of a journey & can open up other worlds – if exploration rather than domination was the reason for communication, we would be living well I think.

    very best to you

    Gracias Michael :] – & yes I remember Gavin’s wise words too.

    very best to you my friend

    Thanks for taking us on your quest eugene

    It seems that ‘wh’ is to a question, what ‘once upon a time’ is to a fairy tale.

    I think children ask questions very well – no restrictions on what can be questioned & no hang-ups about the answers they receive.

    very best to you

    Many thanks tom :]
    Give me a guide any day – guidance is the lightest touch away from a cliff edge, having first given you every opportunity to see the view for yourself & the possible risks involved. Control never even lets you wander near the edge & so your view stays narrow & your world narrower still.

    I think it is time to become great quest-ioners!

    very best to you

    Thanks for the images Max
    There has been a ruthless use of questions in our world – they have been used like vicious sheepdogs – rounding up the herd (& any strays) & returning them to the ‘pen’ time & time again. It seems that connection & communication need to be corralled.

    But I think the herd is becoming restless … :]

    very best to you


  13. lizajean replied:

    beautiful, alex…and without empathy and trust we won’t muddle our way out of this mire…with such gratitude for your writing, mega toast


  14. Alastair replied:

    Great article.
    Reminds me of an article I read a long time ago:

    A French doctor in the 18th or 19th century happened to have some patients who, because of some disease prevalent in that area at that time, had grown up profoundly deaf and language-less.

    Some of these language-free people were taught to speak, and the doctor realized that they had no concept of either questions or number. For example, you couldn’t ask them,

    “How many people, or , who lives in your house?”,

    you had to prompt info from them with a statement like,

    “In your house lives your mother, your father and … ,”

    and hope that they’d finish your sentence for you.

    I remember wondering why nobody else found that REALLY interesting, including our lecturer. If the doctor’s observations were true and correct, then it would seem that the concept of number and question do not exist independently of language; so, does language CAUSE number? If as some say, language is a discriminatory tool that we use to categorize and give order to the info we receive from the world around us, then maybe it is inevitable that such ordering would require the use of number and question. For example, if you ask someone, “Who are you?”, maybe you are asking where that person fits in your world-order, you want to know where this person fits in the taxonomy you’ve created in your head.
    etc, etc.


    • alex robinson replied:

      Great thoughts Alastair! – I agree that was a fascinating story – why would you not want to wonder more about that? So if animals were suddenly granted language would they also not go down the route of questions & numbers? from what I can see questions make hugely powerful tools OR weapons – you can open fantastic new worlds or destroy existing ones. I’m only beginning to grasp the enormity of their power – each question may be the equivalent of the Big Bang of creation or the annihilation of Hiroshima.

      very best to you


  15. Max replied:

    The last comments of Alex and Alastair brought a passage in the Bible to my mind, where something about “the Word” in “the beginning” is mentioned.

    I looked up “Word” in the index and found John 1:1
    “In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was god.”

    In context of creation, I’m finding John 1:3 also mentionable:
    “All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence.”

    I’m wondering, why I never thought further in the past about this bit of my religious indoctrination.

    (The mentioned Bible passages are from a version, mainly used by Jehova’s Witnesses)


  16. Mother replied:

    Thank you for this beautiful article. Reading it, I was reminded of our best friend whom we met during our college days. He came from a wealthy background and had many social obligations imposed on him by his family. Many, many acquaintances but few if any friends. It took a long time and a lot of persistence to bring this relationship to a deeper, more intimate level. His standard method of avoiding more profound conversations?… asking questions. By controlling conversations through his questions, he provided emotional protection for himself, while maintaining an appearance of polite concern.


  17. alex robinson replied:

    Interesting Max
    Perhaps ‘the word’ was in fact a question – a question once asked creates a tension that demands resolution. If Creation was an answer, i wonder what the question actually was?

    very best to you

    Thanks Mother,
    You reminded me of young person I know who has used questions in a similar way. It does seem that the person who wields the question, has an incredibly strong hand or weapon – I have seen this person’s questions take down much ‘bigger’ people, rather like how David was said to have sling-shotted Goliath.

    very best to you


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