Friday, March 18, 2011

When Questions Become Weapons

Have you ever been attacked with questions? Assaulted with interrogatory intent? Badgered into changing your mind, brow-beaten into accepting a new paradigm, or railroaded in a new direction that you instinctively mistrusted?

Have you experienced Questions As Weapons?

I remember the first time, many years ago, when Wendy and I were accosted in our own kitchen by a multi-level marketing stormtrooper. I don’t know if all MLM shock troops use the same methodology, but this guy knew how to use questions – an escalating series that you felt compelled to answer in the affirmative on pains of looking subhuman – in order to manipulate his beleaguered prey into signing on the dotted line.

Fortunately, Wendy and I were able to escape with our skins that evening. But make no mistake, this guy used Questions as Weapons. It was manipulation masquerading as sales; greed behind a smiling façade of “helping you achieve your life goals.”

We also once met a pastor who used questions – deliberately vague, but incendiary enough to sow doubt in the minds of other leaders – to undermine people whom he’d decided were in his God’s way. If another elder/leader voiced the occasional objection to the thinly-disguised slander, the pastor would counter with “I never accused [insert name here] of anything – I only said I had some questions ...”

And it worked, every time. After all, it was only a question. No harm, no foul, right? Except that the intended reputational damage had been done, and holding the pastor accountable for spreading innuendo was impossible. Again, the Question had become a Weapon.

And, of course, perhaps the earliest recorded time when a Question was used as a Weapon – with devastating consequences – would be in an idyllic setting in ancient Mesopotamia, where the following drama was enacted:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden (Genesis 3:1)?’”

Questions are fantastic tools: to learn, to investigate, to evaluate, to sift. We grow by asking questions – indeed, discernment demands that we question – but not all questions are created equal. Some questions seek knowledge and understanding, but other questions are asked solely to gather ammunition.

Make no mistake: Questions arent inherently neutral. They can also be used – by snake-oil salesmen of all persuasions – as manipulative Weapons.