A question on any budding revolutionaries lips should be: How can I effectively question authority? We may well already know why we would want to question authority, and some of us do so regularly, yet we’re often left with no real victory. No great sentiment has been passed between ourselves and, let’s call them, the authority figure. This is why no beam of light has shot from either head in reverence of the exchanged, communicated and individualistically comprehended understanding. This has been understood for thousands of years. It’s one of the basis’ of the Socratic method; asking questions backed with sound reasoning with the hope of expanding each others emotional, social, and spiritual understanding. If you’re at all interested in making a difference in a modern context, you may well have heard of the late peace activist Fran Peavey and her, now free, hugely informative and practical writings, most notably her Strategic Questioning Manual, in which she states; “Asking questions and listening for the strategies and ideas embedded in people’s own answers can be the greatest service a social change worker can give to a particular issue.” I hope to outline here a hypothetical situation where you may wish to use questioning to create change.
The particular situation that I and friends were confronted with where there was a lack of light and knowledge exchanged, was on an eventful evening not so long ago. A police officer had asked us, ‘why are you protesting?’ and all of us immediately tried to explain in a direct manner what it was we were protesting about. The officer received the information, nodded, asked another question in a somewhat mocking tone, and left it at that. The more effective alternative, one backed by a few thousand years of knowledge, is instead to ask a question in return. The way the question is posed should be done so in a passive and calm manner, so as to not warrant, at best a deathly stare, and possibly at worst, a baton beating to the head. The type of question we’re aiming to use is one set for the purpose of furthering peaceful and amicable interaction; ‘why have you become a police officer?’ or ‘why do you do the job you do?’ If the officer answers, you will be allowing him or her to reveal why it is they have chosen the profession they have. This will allow you to, more or less immediately, get to know more about them and understand why it is they have either knowingly or unknowingly, under current circumstances in many parts of the world, taken the side of the larger figure of authority; the oppressor, who will, often enough, answer to a still higher level of authority until you reach a sole oppressor or group of oppressors. In doing so you have opened a door.
Some may say that you should answer his question with simply what it is you are protesting about, which in itself is not incorrect. Yet, more often than not, once the officer receives his or her answer, no matter how long or intricate the description, the officer in question will be more or less satisfied, and end the conversation. In this way no real personal understanding of what it is you’re protesting about has been felt by the police officer, or more directly, how what you are protesting effects them on a personal level. When we’re talking about modern issues like the spying that takes place via information networks i.e. NSA, or the tens of millions of people dying every year to fulfil the needs of a privileged few, many protests today will affect him or her if not directly, then without a doubt, indirectly.
We therefore would do ourselves and the world justice by taking the officers answer further. Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, that the officer, as most good officers of the law would likely state in response; ‘I’m a police officer because I believe in justice, and I wish to protect my community and my nation at large,’ or something to that affect. To me that’s indicating a number of possibilities a) they don’t know what’s happening
b) they don’t know what’s happening and they don’t care,
c) they know what’s happening yet feel it’s beyond their capacity to change it,
d) they know what’s happening and are fine with it,
e) they know what’s happening, but feel that they, as enforcers of the law (a law that may or may not in numerous cases be in direct violation of any number of UN declarations, or individual rights) are doing their bit to make sure that justice is served. I would therefore refer you back to a).
If the conversation stops there then maybe you’ve posed the question incorrectly, or used the wrong tone. If the conversation does stop and you were careful to pose the question correctly, without any sign of spite, and in the right tone, you may well have just succeeded in planting a seed. Their silence if often a sign that they have heard what you’ve said and are stewing over it, and such a thought process will inevitably lead to deeper contemplation, which in any situation aimed at creating positive action is certainly a good thing. If the conversation goes further I would continue to employ this questioning tactic. Whatever nation, or protest you may be attempting to apply this deeper level of questioning at and in will require more specific questions and will get differing answers accordingly. Say, you’re in the U.S., you’re protesting against the demonisation of whistleblowers, and you’ve already established a good rapport with the officer in question, you would do well to then ask him or her firstly if they were a person of faith, in the likely event that they were you may then ask something to the effect of; ‘In the eyes of your god, is telling the truth a sin?’ Again, I won’t go into all the possible outcomes of the conversation or it’s many millions of possible outcomes, but I remind us that as we ask these questions we have some idea of what it is we’re trying to get at, and if you can reach it together, yourself and the officer, you’re a step in the right direction. Because as many of us know, the battle isn’t on the streets so much as it is in the minds and hearts of the people, policemen, politicians, bankers, and wankers included.
In the words of Fran Peavey; “Questioning reveals the profound uncertainty that is imbedded in all reality… It can uncover hidden power and stifled dreams inside of you… things you may have denied for many years.”
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the current system has been denying many things, for many years. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get this collective evolution underway. Get out there, ask some questions.