Have you ever watched a game show and wished the contestant would just answer the question?
. What is the fastest, most time-efficient way to travel from Philadelphia to California? A. Space Shuttle B. Airplane C. Horseback D. Legs
. Whoo, but that sure is a tough one, Chris. My husband has legs, so he could easily walk to work. Then again, we live ten miles from his office and he usually takes a car there, so legs certainly wouldn’t be the best way to go 3,000 miles. A space shuttle is just way too powerful, I mean, I don’t even think they work within certain parameters of the earth’s atmosphere. And horses, I mean, they were the reason we felt the need to pave roads, add wheels and eventually invent cars. And I don’t see a car listed up there as an option, so I guess that leaves me with B–PLANE.
. Do the producers really think this adds to the suspense of the show? Are they just trying to fill time with all this inanity? Why are they trying to give us less meat? Isn’t the question-answer portion of the program what we’re actually tuning in to see? Why all the fillers? It’s annoying. It’s why Jeopardy is still on, uninterrupted, without being downgraded to a lesser funded network for the past fifty plus years. They just play the game. Yes, we meet the contestants, there’s a little banter, but very little time to think of your answer before the buzzer sounds. Let’s move this along, please, there’s a lot of game to play. Wheel of Fortune is another one that runs along smoothly, and has also enjoyed an uninterrupted run since 1975. Even in its pop culture heyday in the eighties (when the world was falling in love with Vanna White so much that she got her own theme song when she walked out) the real star of the show was always puzzle solving.
. But life is not a game show, beautiful babies, and there’s no prize waiting for you after the interrogation. So in order to get the program (i.e., your life) moving along without being bogged down in all the endless chatter brought on by someone throwing a question at you, let’s cover the basics.
JUDGE JUDY IT
If you don’t watch Judge Judy, let me tell you about her interrogation process. When she asks a yes or no question, she wants to hear yes or no. If she asks, “Did you hit your neighbah?” she wants to hear “Yes” or “No.” Not, “Well he was coming at me in a (I purposely left proper grammar to the wind, as most Judge Judy litigants tend to do) aggressive manner,” or “When I came home from the grocery store, Hal was in my driveway looking at my dog like he wanted to kick him.” If I ask you, “Would you like some ice cream?” I don’t want you to answer how you just had dinner, or maybe you won’t be having dinner in a while so maybe you could, but oh the calories or how you’re lactose intolerant and crap your pants when you have ice cream but maybe just this once, do I have a bathroom close to the kitchen? How about, “No, thank you,” or “Yes, please.” (Polite words are a necessity and not considered fillers). When you answer with something other than what the answer is, simple yes or no, the rest of the words become your opinion on your response, your personal spin on what you want the listener to hear. All the listener really wants to hear is the answer to their question. You never did get any extra points with the teacher for long-winded answers that didn’t address the question. So answer it. Clearly. No room for interpretation. Yes or no.
If someone asks if they should drop your pug on his head, the best response would not be, “Well, I don’t think that would be a good idea.” Now you’ve left your inquisitor wide open to interpret for himself whether or not it would be a good idea. Break down what you just said. “I don’t think.” Don’t don’t think. Think. You don’t have to answer right away. Take a moment to form your yes or no. Hopefully you wouldn’t need much time here to issue a resounding “No!” Say the words in your head before you speak them.
. I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to drop my pug on his head.
. Now that you’ve formed the statement in your head, you have your verbal answer. No. Then run far, far away from that person. Carrying your pug.
NO LYING, PLEASE
There may come a time when a simple yes or no is not good enough for someone. They may want more information, and that’s okay. What’s also okay is that you are not obligated to answer every question posed to you. My favorite response to hard questions? “I don’t have a good answer for you.” It’s truthful, and it shuts down further questioning. For example, I was leaving a party once, well before it was over. I didn’t like the food. I had already made the rounds and chatted with everyone I wanted to catch up with. I had stayed a decent amount of time to not appear rude. I just wanted to go to Taco Bell, have a burrito, go home and sit on my couch in a onesie. I went to the hostess and said, “I’m going to go now. Thank you for inviting me.” She said, “Oh. Why are you leaving?” Now, I think that’s a rude question. I know she didn’t mean it to be rude. Some people just like to talk, like to ask questions, like to keep a conversation going. Perhaps they think it’s awkward or rude to just say, “Okay, thank you for coming, drive safely.” So after she asked this I very well couldn’t say, “I’m bored, your food sucks, I want to veg on my couch.” So I smiled and said, “Trish (not her name), I don’t have a good answer for you.” I hugged her and said, “Thanks again.” Now don’t all go thinking if I leave your party it’s because your food sucks. I may have a case of the runs and don’t want to tell you. I may have dozens of reasons for having to go, many of which it may not be beneficial for you to know. Maybe I saw your husband getting it on with your neighbor. I’m not one to lie and say, “Oh I don’t feel well,” or “Oh, I have so much laundry to do at home.” Not becoming of me and not fair to you. The other problem is that you can get caught up in your lies. If I would have told Trish I wasn’t feeling well, perhaps she could have informed me Stan is a doctor and would I like him to take a look at me. Or maybe she would bring me chicken soup the next day and now I feel like a lying shitheel. When you get caught up in a lie, you may find yourself in the sticky predicament of answering more questions, thinking up more lies and possibly even confusing yourself. Now even you aren’t so sure of your original answer. So do yourself a favor, beautiful baby: just tell the truth.
Have you ever been stopped by the police while whizzing down the highway? (Use those answering skills, come on, “Yes; no; I don’t have a good answer for you, Rachel”) What’s usually their first question, right after demanding license, registration and insurance? “Do you know why I stopped you?” Tip: this answer is almost always “No.” Not a lie. You don’t know why they stopped you. Sure, you could speculate. You know you were speeding and can assume that’s why they stopped you. Maybe you have a busted tail light. Maybe he wants your phone number. You don’t have to figure out what he wants you to say. Don’t taint your answer with an expected outcome or response from the person asking. Do you really want to give this cop another reason for ticketing you? Or agree with him that indeed you should be getting a ticket? Don’t editorialize your answer—just answer. Don’t justify your answer, or give reasons why that’s your answer—just answer. Don’t explain your answer. Don’t assume why someone is asking the question and then answer with what you think they want to hear. Just answer what they definitely want to know, as voiced in their question: “Do you know why I stopped you?” No.
FOR THE ASKER: JUST ACCEPT THE ANSWER GIVEN
Unless you’re a lawyer, judge, journalist, or someone whose job it is to keep asking questions (or a parent. But that is a job, now, isn’t it?), be happy with your answer. If it’s not the information you wanted, perhaps you’re not asking the right questions. No need to keep bombarding your subject with them, keep probing until the entire scenario is lying before you. Case in point, or, how I learned the hard way to just accept the first answer:
. I was having lunch with the pianist one day, and I was on the fence about whether or not he was still seeing his girlfriend. He was here with me, he hadn’t mentioned her in a while, and I also hadn’t seen her around. He seemed to be flying solo lately. That should have been good enough for me. After all, it was only lunch. Perhaps if lunch would have ended in the bedroom, it might be important for me to know if there was still a girlfriend. If he asked me to marry him or brought roses and candy, perhaps I could have had the right to know if we were exclusive. But it was just lunch, his treat. Not a big deal. Yes, I wanted to know if I had a chance with him to be exclusive, but then isn’t that the question I wanted to ask? Yes, but I was too chicken, so I decided to take a different approach. I thought I was just making conversation. And so it started.
. I asked him what he did last night. He went to a club to see a live band, he said. Oh, I answered. With who? Ryan (not his name), he said. Okay. Neither one of us really liked Ryan. The pianist himself said Ryan was such a drag. I started laughing. “Why in the world would you go out with Ryan?” He shrugged, said there was a live music act they were both friendly with so they went to check it out. “Well, did you have to go together?” I asked. “What happened? I mean, did he call you, ask you to go out? Did you call him? How did that conversation go?” The pianist looked very uncomfortable. But he answered. “Sarah (not her name) is friends with Ryan’s girlfriend, so the two of them set it up.” Oh. Sarah. The pianists’ girlfriend. Still in the picture. Oh, how I kicked myself for bringing her into our conversation. Eventually the pianist broke up with her and was free for me to enjoy for a spell, but on that day I introduced an awkward energy into our day when I just could have left well enough alone. He answered my question, what did you do last night, “I went to a club to see a live band.” I could have next asked, “Were they good? Do you know anyone in the band, or just a fan? What band? Is their music something you think I would like?” I could have kept it about me and him. Instead I ragged on all the wrong topics. Lesson learned.
Personally, I am more comfortable on the asking side of the questioning game. I’m inquisitive by nature, and my life is full of questions, many of which I ask myself. Iced tea or frap? Novel or blog? Mac and cheese or treadmill? I also love those questions games, like Would You Rather or What Would You Do If? I like hearing people’s responses. It’s how I get to know them. Are you my kind of person, or not? Definitely not something I’ll directly ask anyone. How would they know anyway?
Did I just negate the point of this entire blog?