Monday, April 20, 2009

Socratic Questioning


Socratic questioning comes from Socrates the Greek philosopher who inspired the Socratic Method, a form of philosophical inquiry in which the questioner explores the implications of others' positions, to stimulate rational thinking and illuminate ideas. Whereas questions define tasks, express problems and delineate issues, answers can often signal a full stop in thought. Only when an answer generates a further question does thought continue its life and ultimately leads to a higher level of learning by exploring ideas, understanding truths and analyzing concepts.

When the right questions are asked we begin critical thinking. The goal of critical thinking is to establish an additional level of thinking to our thinking, a powerful inner voice of reason, that monitors, assesses, and reconstitutes - in a more rational direction - our thinking, feeling, and action. Great teachers encourage critical thinking with their students by asking ‘Socratic questions’ that engage them to think deeper about the answers given - or in other words; the thoughts behind the thoughts.

Swimupstream blogs are meant to evoke thought in their readers. Last week’s blog titled “Concrete Mind” for example brought about thought by someone who commented: “This is a good one, glad you shared it. We forget the importance of baby steps & you can't ever overstate the importance of character strength.” I agreed with the comment and thought - I must learn to jump over one-foot poles before attempting a five-foot pole first. Going deeper and asking Socratic questions, my thought results in this Socratic self-dialogue:

Q: Why would you want to jump over a five-foot pole first?
A: Jumping over a five-foot pole means becoming the best.
Q: Being the best is different for everyone. What does being the best mean to you?
A: When I am the best I will be smarter than I am now, more acknowledged than I am with more money and more freedom.
Q: Whoa! Slow down. More money? More freedom? Why do you want more money?
A: So that I can have more freedom in life, always be debt-free and to be able to buy nicer things.
Q: First of all you have no debts and don’t be fooled by those around you who appear to have more. Most people that have more money than you have much more debt also. What is freedom to you and how does spending money on nice things have anything to do with you wanting to be the best?
A: Freedom is living the way I want to without any restrictions. Spending money has nothing to do with being the best so I guess being the best does not mean having more money.
Q: Exactly! Now back to freedom - are you living within any restraints or being restricted in any way right now?
A: No. Not compared to many other people in the world who get persecuted for what they believe in, have to live in fear of being killed or fight for their next meal. When I think of it, life here is pretty good. I have a home, clothes on my back and food to eat. I am pretty well off. But it would be nice to have some money to be able to go travel to further places.
Q: Yes we are doing much better than others so never take it for granted. Why is travel important to you?
A: I place high value on travel. I like to be able to go places because of the experience I come back with. I believe that traveling and getting away from home once in a while can give you a broader perspective and make you a wiser person.

This dialogue could continue for much longer and it does not matter that the above did not follow with content of the “Concrete Mind” blog. What is important is that every thought we develop has a deeper thought behind it. In the above conversation, we see that I had become to think about the bigger picture in life as well as get to some of my personal values. When we ask Socratic questions we start critical thinking allowing us to think more rationally, therefore making sound choices in life and better understanding why we do the things we do. If you are reading these articles on Swimupstream, chances are you have committed to a lifetime of learning. On a personal level, ask yourself Socratic questions to get to the route of your thoughts. This will better shape your behaviors and promote better actions that are harmonious with your values. At another level, consider this type of thinking with those you are trying to educate. Teach by encouraging them to express their thoughts for further discussion and ultimately higher learning.

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