Simple Questions, Complex Answers

‘I ask a simple question, I want a simple answer!’ <-this is someone who assumes short inferential distances, and the problem with simple questions wanting simple answers is that totally works when both people, the questioner and the answerer have the same background, the same experience, the same expertise, and the same insight. Two rocket scientists working on the same aspect of the same project can ask simple questions and get simple answers. Two researching chemists working on the same aspect of the same project can do the same. Two parents raising children for the first time can do it. Two students studying the same major with the same classes can do it.

But when you as a layperson ask a question of a professional… it can get very complicated. (This is why I do blog series on things like ‘how to forgive’ and ‘how to widen perspective’, because a satisfying answer takes a while.)

I deal with people who assume short inferential distances all the time because I’m a professional in my field and people who are interested but not a professional ask me seemingly simple questions all the time. And sure, there’s always a simple answer, but that simple answer isn’t very satisfying. And I can give a complete answer in one hundred words or less, but you may not understand it if you don’t have an advanced degree in an applicable subject, or have just been a history buff all your life. Here’s a fun example of an abbreviated conversation I had last week:

Q: So, is Russia one of the terrible beasts from Revelations, and is this the end times?

A: No, it’s Revelation, not Revelations, and also no.

Q: Okay, but then what’s going on with Revelations?

A: It’s a contextually appropriate ancient revenge fantasy very loosely inspired by God with a few but not many Christian trappings, and an occasional thread of hope running through it. It’s not about Russia, or China, or any modern power, it was about the Ancient Roman Empire, which has already fallen, so don’t worry about the bowls and trumpets and seals and whatnot.

Q: Huh?

… and that’s where it breaks down. The answer ‘No’ is true, but unsatisfying ‘cause it’s monosyllabic. The answer citing cultural context is true but unsatisfying because it’s still at a 30,000 foot level and it still needs unpacking for someone who isn’t an anthropologist or historian or biblical scholar (even at the hobbyist level) specializing in the time and region in question. And once you get past that, the unpacking is… kind of ginormous. Oh, you can skimp on it and try to hit the highlights in a quick eight-minute lecture, but it does better if you can stand to dig in and take about ten hours of reading, mini-lecture, and q&a, which might sound heinous, but that’s a normal bible study for you.

I point out this Assumption of Short Inferential Differences because it’s always a pain when it bites me in the ass. When I’m the one assuming short inferential distances. I hit on this just recently as I yelled out in frustration in my empty house, ‘Why is this so f^@&ing difficult?!’ 

The topic was self-care with a focus on health, practices that are unquestioningly helpful, and reliably doing them. And there’s a totally unsatisfying short answer to that question of ‘why is this so hard?’ You weren’t ready. And the longer answers have been presenting themselves to me over the last few weeks, and they all have to do with the deepest healing work I’m doing, which of course has to do with the deepest pain and trauma that I carry. And that kinda stuff affects everything, every part of life – something I’ve known in theory, but that experiential knowledge comes later, as always. And it’s always a deeper knowing.

But you know, shortly after I yelled that seemingly rhetorical question to the sleeping cats, the otherwise empty house, and thus to God, the answers did come.

And the first one was ‘Because you weren’t ready yet. You’re just about ready now. And you like to rush things, so it always hurts at first. You rarely take the slow, gentle path, Sarah.’

And then the other, deeper, and much more complex answers started occurring to me in odd moments. How it was connected to this issue, to that trauma. How in fact, I had managed to build my entire sense of self-worth from childhood up on not doing stuff like this as a priority, and so in reality I was struggling to tear down a very solidly built wall, metaphorically speaking. 

Now that I think of it that way, it felt like I was armed with plastic teaspoons and I had to tear down an eight foot high brick wall with them.

God’s point, perhaps, is that I tend not to wait until God has turned the proverbial wall into jello, in which case two plastic teaspoons would be completely reasonable tools. I notice the wall while it’s still made of granite and start kicking it immediately, and then bitch about my broken foot. (It’s my way.) I could even wait until God turns the wall into sheer water vapor and then just walk through it, teaspoons unnecessary, but that would require more patience than I’ve yet to display. (Hope lives eternal, however.)

At some point soon, my natural response to being blocked internally or externally is going to just be to forgive. I’m looking forward to that day.

For more on forgiveness, check out the series, here.

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