On Social Economy & Asking Better Questions

Emerging Fern Frond as captured by Bill Harrison

In the eyes of family, I am a podcast zealot for maintaining some hundred plus subscriptions of defunct, current and newly released shows curated within a playlist entitled “Newsfeed 3.0”. No relationship to Cauleen Smith’s Human 3.0 Reading List besides mere joyful coincidence. Although I could make a strong argument that each collection is intimately tied to deepening social inquiry. Subscriptions range a broad spectrum of news, economics, storytelling, futurism, history and entrepreneurship, but the format I appreciate most involves a Studs Terkel style person to person dialogue where an interested interviewer sculpts a narrative by probing their interviewee with progressively better questions.

While gleaning my social media feed for new insights, I encountered a 17 minute audio segment labeled “Black Lives Matter Meditation for Healing Racial Trauma” which led to my discovery of the podcast series “How To Love a Human” hosted by Dr. Candice Nicole, an assistant professor at University of Kentucky. Dr. Nicole launched the podcast as a public exploration through dialogue of the manner in which 16 humans defined their intersectional identities, developed relationships around those identities and sought an interpretation of those stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.

Appreciation of this show was heightened when a recent blog entry circulated by Iman N. Milner entitled “6 Things To Ask Artists Instead Of ‘What Are You Working On?’: A Plea” which was prompted by the suicide of Chester Bennington, former lead singer of Linkin Park. In this entry, Iman posed 6 relatively simple questions which are more emotionally intelligent methods of human engagement than “What are you working on?” or its white collar counterpart “What do you do?” Neither question returns us significant value in terms of human understanding and both often devolve into a series of practiced or routine responses which comport with social custom. To ask better questions, we must begin with a sincere desire to love the human on the other side of the conversation.

While reading Iman’s entry, I was preparing to host a full moon gathering for Art Is Bonfire and contemplating ideas on what intention should be introduced into the space. These six questions offered us the opportunity to cultivate an intentional reminder that we must ask better questions if we want to strengthen social economy and deepen social infrastructure. Time exchange is dependent upon these elements because technological infrastructure exists only in service of those relationships. We build those relationships when we shift our orientation from mile wide to mile deep. We build those relationships when we ask better questions. The best questions bloom from listening with focused attention and deliberate intention. The answers they offer us in return multiply our understanding and empathy for the person with whom are in dialogue.

We can take a cue from Pancho McFarland of the Green Lots Project who once responded to an expression of mounting frustration I released in the realm of social media with the question, “What do you need?”  His attempt to provide relief flowed from listening to what was said and unsaid even though we were not sharing physical space with each other.  He had to be aware of that this frustration was not my normative state and available for the opportunity to offer support.

Are you listening?  Are you available?

6 Things To Ask Artists Instead Of…

  1. How are you?

  2. How can I help you?

  3. Are you happy?

  4. Have you eaten?

  5. Do you want company?

  6. I love you (not a question…I know).

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