Good (and tough) Questions

“Have you ever read the works of Shan Yu?”
“Shan Yu, the psychotic dictator?”
“Yep. Fancied himself quite the warrior poet. Wrote volumes on war, torture … the limits of human endurance.”
“That’s nice …”
“He said ‘live with a man 40 years, share his house, his meals, speak on every subject. Then tie him up and hold him over the volcano’s edge. And on that day you will finally meet the man.'”
Book and Simon in “Firefly”

I recently stumbled upon Chuck Klosterman’s “23 Questions I Ask Everybody I Meet In Order To Decide If I Can Really Love Them”. There are some very interesting scenarios described in these questions, and the answers … holla, I’m not sure what I would do in a couple of these situations. And some answers I might give are probably minority opinions.

Take, for example:

11. You are watching a movie in a crowded theater. Though the plot is mediocre, you find yourself dazzled by the special effects. But with twenty minutes left in the film, you are struck with an undeniable feeling of doom: You are suddenly certain your mother has just died. There is no logical reason for this to be true, but you are certain of it. You are overtaken with the irrational metaphysical sense that—somewhere—your mom has just perished. But this is only an intuitive, amorphous feeling; there is no evidence for this, and your mother has not been ill.
Would you immediately exit the theater, or would you finish watching the movie?
From Chuck Klosterman’s “23 Questions I Ask Everybody I Meet In Order To Decide If I Can Really Love Them”

I mean, first of all, while having a strong imagination, I also have a deeply ingrained bullshit detector. And I would mistrust my “intuitive, amorphous feeling”. And then there’s just the fact that if my mother really would have died, she would be dead no matter whether I finish watching the movie or not. And given that I have already paid for it, I would probably be interested in watching it up to the end (despite the mediocre plot). So why (further) ruin the movie experience? (Yup, it would be a different answer if I would think that my mother would die soon. Then I would not be in the cinema in the first place.)

Anyway, if you are a fan of questions like these, I also highly recommend the “Book of Questions” books by Gregory Stock. They contain similar scenarios that make for entertaining evenings and road trips. I know of three books he has published, the original “Book of Questions”, then there’s one containing questions regarding “Business, Politics and Ethics” and another one about “Love & Sex”.

Questions are, for example:

“The Book of Questions”

A cave-in occurs while you and a stranger are in a concrete room deep in a mine shaft. Before the phone goes dead, you learn the entire mine is sealed and the air hole being drilled will not reach you for 30 hours. If you both take sleeping pills from the medicine chest, the oxygen will last for only 20 hours. Both of you can’t survive; alone, one of you might. After you both realize this, the stranger takes several sleeping pills, says that it is in God’s hands, and falls asleep. You have a pistol; what do you do?

“The Book of Questions: Business, Politics and Ethics”

Your business, which employs a hundred people, has only an even chance of making it through the year. If this gets out, your suppliers are likely to stop giving you credit and force you into bankruptcy; but if you don‘t tell your employees, they may be caught unprepared and suffer great hardship. Would you tell your employees the truth?

“The Book of Questions: Love & Sex”

If your lover kept a private journal that was easily accessible, under what circumstances might you read it without permission? For example, what if your relationship were on the rocks and you were confused about your partner’s feelings?

Highly recommended.


P.S.: Another source of (partly) interesting questions are the Match Questions of OKCupid. While actually a dating site, the match questions are (sometimes) surprisingly interesting — and one of the more interesting features of the site. Some people have written some very interesting answers in the accompanying text fields (you can search for “Explained answers” in the questions section of profiles). But like written, you have to search for a while. A huge part of what is written in online dating is … rather unreflected. Even worse in the profiles, with “carpe diem” and other crap being prevalent. Not to mention the huge disconnect between how some people see and describe themselves — and how they are in actual interaction. Many are more interesting on paper than in real life. But yup, occasionally, there are some gems in the questions and the answers — and in the people you meet online. Occasionally. 😉

P.P.S.: In case anyone is interested, here are my answers to the example questions posed above:

#183 (cave-in): If the stranger thinks “it is in God’s hands”, then I would go Diego Maradona and play “the Hand of God”. Okay, perhaps by drawing straws … okay … let’s do a best of three … errm, best of ten … . I guess that’s what this person wanted. Seriously, when someone is that cowardly and avoids making a decision, this person has made a decision. I would try to be fair, but I would also like my chances. Also, this person obviously believes in a god and thus likely also in a life after death, so this person does not lose much by dying. “Life” goes on for this person — eternally in his/her imagination. I don’t believe in god, I think this life is the only one I got. I really like it to continue. Additionally, given the dim view many gods have on suicide and the fact that this person’s action might be interpreted as such, I might actually be doing this person a favor. Okay, I better stop explaining that answer now. 😉

#40 (bankruptcy): I would reject the false dichotomy here and inform the employees that we need to achieve goals x, y, and z and work out a plan to achieve these goals. No need to sink a boat, if there’s an even chance. Nobody can guarantee success, but I would like my employees (and myself) to give the best in making it.

#4 (journal snooping): Hell no. This breach of trust is not only a deal-breaker when it comes to relationships, you just can’t win by snooping. You know something you should not know. If you act on it, it will raise questions, forcing you to lie — and continue lying. And these lies won’t survive long with a smart partner (why would I want a partner who is not smart?). And how can you not act on it, or be influenced by it? There’s also the difference between “writing something in a journal” and “truth”. People often write things down in order to find out what they really think or feel, and not all dreams crave for realization. So no, I would not snoop. Nor would I hack her eMail account. But I guess it would be a good time to talk about the relationship.

P.P.P.S.: Yup, that ‘s why actual behavior data is probably best — if you can induce these scenarios and get them past the ethics commission.