The Importance of Asking the Right Questions

As I begin writing this post, there is a mere 28 minutes until the 2018 Badwater 135 race gun fires in Death Valley, California. Runners begin in three waves at 8pm, 9pm, and 10pm. They have 48 hours to finish the race which begins, as you may expect, in Badwater Basin. It is, I do believe, the lowest point on Earth at approximately 280 feet below sea level. It weaves north to Furnace Creek, west to Stovepipe Wells and Panamint Springs, and then up to Lone Pine and finally uphill to the Mt. Whitney Portal. I am excited for the runners, and I’ve done enough snooping now that I have a couple of favorites that I’ll be following through the race.

Badwater is not, however, my subject of the day. Actually, this will probably be a short post, but I had a thought as I was working today that I thought would be a good one to communicate, and that is the importance of the company you keep, as well as the questions that you ask. 

This past weekend, my friends from Chicago came to town. We always get together in February as a sort of tradition, but they decided to do a return visit just for the heck of it and bring their significant others. The girls were around, so we had quite a house full, but it was a great time. We went over to one of the local lakes, which has a fine sandy beach and plenty of floating slides and trampolines for the kids. We all had a great time, including the kids. The adults went to dinner at the winery, and we all came home that evening merry, indeed.

I have to give my friends credit where it’s due. I don’t think anyone makes me laugh quite as hard as they do. Within 20 minutes of M. sitting down, I laughed so hard I actually peed my pants a little bit. That is, for better or worse, not exactly an uncommon occurrence when we are all together.

My friends have been awfully good to me. They stuck around when I was in a pretty shitty place in my life. They showed up, drank with me, got tattoos with me, and we laughed so hard that we peed our pants a little. It’s an easier thing to find friends who will stick around when everything is good, but it’s a far greater treasure when they’ll show up when you have practically nothing to offer.

Although my friends only left less than 36 hours ago, I already called upon one of them yet again today on behalf of another friend. My friend at work, another true friend who was awfully damned good to me when I was a bit of a mess, had a stroke back in February. She is in her early sixties. She has worked hard her entire life, although her family admittedly doesn’t have all that much. After the massive expense of her strokes and the rehabilitation associated when them, her family has been left in rather serious financial straits. The supervisor for her department is coordinating the initial effort to start fundraising on their behalf.

I am admittedly somewhat new to the realm of fundraising, although I have done it for the junior board that I serve on for my old summer camp. In fact, one of the main things that we do is fundraise and come up with activities and projects that increase alumni participation. I enjoy it a lot, but as I said, I’m still getting my feet wet. My friend A., however, is an old hand at the game, both for the board and for other things.

She went to school out in California and is one of those free-spirited hippie girls who has been to Burning Man several times. A lot of people think of Burning Man as somewhere people go to do a lot of drugs and inhale too much sand, which is true, but it seems like it’s also a giant networking event, from what she has said about it. A lot of her old running buddies back out in California have the particular talent of being able to scrounge up absurd amounts of money in a short period of time. I find it fascinating, actually.

When I was invited to this fundraising meeting set for later this week, I knew I needed some good ideas. While our woe begotten system was attempting to pull up the things I was working on, I flipped over to Gmail and shot A. an email, asking her if she might have some ideas that I could put to good use.

The reply was an interesting for this novice. She had questions about demographics, the longevity of the campaign, and how exactly we would be giving the money to them, whether it would be for specific items in need of payment or whether it would be in a lump sum. I was struck, as I have been many times, by the importance of asking the right questions.

Part of me thought for a moment that I was taking it a bit too seriously, since it isn’t as though we are trying to build a hospital or something of that nature. Then I wondered what would make me think that bringing ease to a friend was less worthwhile somehow than some larger endeavor. Whoever saves one life saves the world entire, or so I am told.

I have been incredibly and unironically blessed to have great people around me during the worst times in my life. I think we owe it to people to repay their faith and kindness. I am happy that I have other good people in my circle that I can call upon to provide their knowledge and experience towards helping others in that circle.

I would not suggest that anyone become friends with people based on what they can do for you. Better to ask what you can do for others. In my experience, that will attract the right sort of people to you – the kind of people that ask the same question. And it is, after all, quite important that you ask the right questions.