The Library: Inquiry

For one reason or another, most of us approach libraries for, among other things, the purpose of finding information that we need, want or are forced (by circumstances) to find.  It really has not mattered why I came to a library seeking information, whether for practical, domestic matters, health related questions, or academic, intellectual research:  I look back and see that each time I came to the library thinking I knew where to start and where the information would likely lead.  In almost every case, I was surprised.

This is one of the dynamics of the art of inquiry of which The Library reminds me.  We don’t often think of human relations as “research” or “looking up information,” but maybe we should.  When a friend, colleague, neighbor or family member states an opinion or assertion that I find disturbing, I am inclined to argue, to refute, to disagree and launch into my own emotion laden speech.  Most of the times, such encounters become a stalemate.  No winners.  All losers.  Relationships strained if not broken.

If I can remember to think of such encounters as research, as looking up information, things change.  I can simply ask a question, an open-ended one, that invites the other human being with whom I am in relationship, to tell me more about their opinion.  I may even ask that question thinking that I know where it is going.  More times that not, just like my trips to the library, I am surprised.  If I am honest, I am also humbled.  I think in such situations that I know what a person’s opinion means and why they hold it.  I often am clueless to the context and lived experiences that have helped them arrive at that conclusion.

Does inquiry like this mean that I always finish by agreeing with the other’s opinion?  No. Not always.  Maybe not even often.  Such inquiry does always expand my own vision, my own understanding of the human situation.  It modulates how I hold other people in my mind, and it moderates the quick and ready judgments I am inclined to make about them. In other words, I hope, and I think, that inquiry helps to make me a better human being for others to be in relationship.  Inquiry is a worthy way of conducting “human research.” Today, we will find ourselves standing in voter lines.  We may hear a few opinions expressed.  It might be a good day for “research.”  It’s always a good day to strengthen and sustain human relations.

Bob Patrick

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