The writer Rebecca Solnit has written that one of her goals in life is to be able to “answer closed questions with open questions.” I thought of this today when I read these words from one of the local participants in a walking vigil held on the anniversary of the signing of the Paris climate agreement. “…It’s so hard to know what to do just as one person. And I know what we’re doing today may not make a difference, but it feels like something, and hopefully it’s one way of raising our voice about what’s going on.”
I feel that way so much of the time – that’s it’s hard to know, when it feels as though things are wrong or broken, what to do as one person. It’s hard to know if anything will make a difference, if anything gets moved by anything else. I know it’s not a unique or unusual sentiment, but in this context it got me thinking about how we decide what does and doesn’t make a difference, what does and doesn’t matter. Pondering this brought me back to the idea of open questions, and I realized that the question “Will this make any difference?” is rather a closed question, and that we might find more space and support in asking a more open one like “What difference might this make?”
An open question invites participation from the imagination, the creative capacities of the mind. It reaches into what may yet be possible, rather than launching a sequence of reasoning or logic with a yes or no at the end. I like reason and logic, but as we decide whether or not to let ourselves be moved to act in the face of great adversity, they may not be as great an asset as our ability to conceive voraciously of the possible.