Simply ending a sentence with a question mark does not render it purely innocent. Finishing a statement with an upward inflection in the voice does not absolve it of all responsibilities. A question as a thing is a tool, a method for requesting information. Unfortunately, there is currently a pervasive trend of ending accusations with question marks in an attempt to excuse the attack as ‘merely a question’ or falsely ennoble it as a ‘search for the truth’.
A question, at its basest function, is a relatively simple thing. It is a method of seeking information we do not currently have. Questions can be quite simple. What time is it? Is it raining outside? What did you have for breakfast? Questions can be incredibly complicated. How can we cure cancer? Why do victims of spousal abuse stay with their abusers? What are the best sets of policies for leading an entire nation?
Even with the simplest or noblest of intentions seeking answers can be a complex and messy affair. The information we gain can be harmful instead of helpful, the person we are asking might not want to divulge an answer, the moment we are needing or wanting the information may be the worst possible moment to ask, the answers we are seeking may simply not yet exist to be found.
Asking questions is a crucial part of how we learn and learning is necessary for any kind of growth or success. But questions are only truly questions if their aim and intention is actual learning and for that to be the case there cannot be any pre-conditions for what qualifies as an answer.
We can have theories, predictions, expectations, and even preferences for what the answer might be but if we have already decided what the answer is and therefore only accept a response if it matches, dismissing all other responses as immediately and obviously false, then we are not in fact asking a question. We are seeking further evidence to support a perspective we have already decided on.
There are times when such performative questions are used for specific purposes, such as a courtroom trial. Lawyers ask questions of witnesses for the purpose of documenting the information they have already found into the official record. Courtroom TV and movie…