Matthew Jelalian: Questions worth asking

February 24, 2019
Matthew Jelalian poses for a portrait in the Daily Herald studio on Friday, March 6, 2015. SAMMY JO HESTER, Daily Herald

Recently I listened to a podcast about questions.

The podcast guest’s basic premise was that we don’t ask enough questions as adults.

This lack of questions causes us to follow instructions rather than innovate. It creates stagnant family connections, uninspired work lives and lackluster solutions to community problems.

The guest recommended that we regularly ask simple, open-ended questions to learn more about why we do the things we do.

For example, he suggests that people should ask the question, “Why do we do it this way?” at work. The idea of asking questions is interesting to me. So much so that I thought that it might be worth thinking of a few politics-related questions of my own to reexamine my beliefs.

So here are some of the questions I thought of.

First, why do you believe what you believe? The point of this question isn’t to say, “Because it’s the best view out there.”

The point of this question is to get you to dig deep and find what makes you believe the way you do. Is it somehow connected to your religious beliefs? Do you think your views best match those of the Founding Fathers or someone else? Are you a single-issue voter, and by default, join the party who supports your views on that issue? What’s the data behind those views? How have they worked out where they’ve been implemented?

I’m not talking about anecdotal evidence. I’m talking about real data. In countries, states and counties where people have implemented some of your views, how have they worked out? Is your world view based on this data or is it more theoretical?

Second, if you could wave a wand, what would the world look like and why would it work that way?

Again, the point of this question isn’t for you to paint a picture of unicorns farting rainbows and pizza growing on trees. Nobody cares about your imaginary utopia. I’m more interested in knowing how a world that abides by your world view handles the problems of today.

How do these people deal with a medical emergency? How do they deal with a dirty cop? How do they deal with rape allegations? How do people in your world deal with unemployment? How do people that abide by your world view handle refugees?

The world is not perfect, and I suspect it will never be. The way we experience problems may change, but the problems themselves are the same. The only thing we can do is change how we react to problems.

And that requires that we understand how our views would treat people in a variety of situations.

Third, what are the shortcomings of your world view? Or better yet, what arguments do opponents of your views hold that are valid?

If I learned anything from attending Economics 110 during my time at BYU, it’s that your first choice costs as much as your second choice.

For example, if I’m deciding between ordering out to save time, and cooking something at home to save money, the cost is whatever I don’t choose. If I decide to cook, I’m paying for my food with the time I could have had if I ordered out. But if I order out, I’m paying extra for the effort I did not want to make cooking for myself. This can be applied everywhere.

If you create social programs for those who are struggling, you have to either cut money elsewhere or you have to raise taxes or you have to pass debt on to future generations. If you cut those social programs, you’ll have to deal with the struggles that come with making ends meet. Working two jobs forces people to sleep less and become less efficient. Financial desperation also leads to increased crime and poor neighborhood relations.

Either way, you’re paying for your choice. What are you sacrificing according to your world view? What are others sacrificing? Are those sacrifices worth it or would you correct them somehow?

If you’re not paying for something with taxes, you’re paying some other way. And if you are paying for something with taxes, you can’t use that money on something else. What is it?

Fourth, how would you correct problems created by your world view?

Mistakes and accidents happen. But sometimes problems are systemic. In a world where the justice system is only supposed to jail people who committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, it’s pretty difficult to convict anyone of a hard-to-prove crime. At the same time, in a world where proof of guilt is less strict, you run the risk of jailing innocent people.

Intended or unintended, I’m willing to bet your world view has some flaws to it. The Founding Fathers were intelligent, but they were still cool with slavery and limiting voting rights to just white, male property owners.

What adjustments could you make to your world view to make your ideal world a little bit better?

These questions are just a starting place. We should always be analyzing and reanalyzing what we believe and how we’d like to see those beliefs manifest themselves in the world.

Please, hold yourself to a higher standard and start asking yourself more questions.