Cooperative Communication Skills -- Extended Learning Community

Radical Questions for Critical Times

by Sam Keen


Rumor has it that on leaving the Garden of Eden, Adam 
said to Eve: "My dear, we are living in an age of transition." 
Ordinarily, life proceeds ordinarily. We dwell securely within 
the garden of the protective myths, values, and paradigms 
of our society; our questions are about making a living, 
purchasing the things we have been taught to desire, raising 
our children, and keeping up with the neighbors. But times of 
crisis challenge our comfortable assumptions about who we 
are and force us to ask more radical questions. Carl Jung 
reached such a point at midlife when he realized that he 
didn't know what myth he had been living.

Since permanent change is here to stay and crises and 
transitions are an inevitable part of the human condition, a wise 
person will hone some of the skills necessary for thriving in 
troubled times. Think of the crises every Adam and Eve must 
negotiate as composed of three interlocking circles: identity 
crises, love crises, social crises. It follows that the radical 
questions we most need to ask in times of transition (when 
our world is burning) are those addressed to the solitary self, 
those concerning the intimate relationship between I and thou, 
and those that have to do with the commonwealth within which 
we live and move and have our being.

Herewith, a selection to get you started. (Please send others 
that trouble, challenge, and inspire you to: Sam Keen, 
16331 Norrbom Rd. Sonoma, California 95476)


What is happening to me?
What comes next for me?
What is the source and meaning of my 
     restlessness, dissatisfaction, longing, anxiety?
What do I really desire?
What have I not brought forth that is within me?
What have I contributed to life?
What are my gifts? My vocation?
What ought I to do? Who says?
What does my dream-self know that "I" don't?
What story, myth, values, authorities, institutions inform my life?
What is my ultimate concern?
How faithful am I to my best vision of myself?
At whose expense has my wealth, security, 
     and happiness been purchased?


Whom do I love?
By whom am I loved?
Am I more loved or loving?
How intimate are we?
How close is close enough?
What are we doing together?
Do we help each other broaden and deepen the reach 
     of our caring, to become more compassionate?
What clandestine emotions fear, anger, resentment, 
     guilt, shame, sorrow, desire for revenge - keep us 
     from being authentic with each other?
When do our vows and promises become a prison from 
     which I and thou must escape to preserve the 
     integrity of our separate beings?
Can we renew our passion and commitment?
When is it time to say goodbye?


Who is included within the "we," the community, 
     the polis that encompasses and defines my being?
Who is my neighbor?
For whom, beyond the circle of my family, do I care?
Who are my enemies?
To what extremes would I go to defend my country?
Can I be just, loving, merciful, and be loyal to my 
     profession, my corporation, my country?
If we were to measure our success by Gross National 
     Happiness (the national standard of Bhutan) how would 
     our economic, political, educational, and religious 
     institutions change?
What would have to happen to convince sovereign nations 
     to wage peace rather than expending their wealth and 
     creativity in producing more deadly and genocidal weapons?


If you doubt that asking a new question is a royal 
road to revolution, transformation, and renewal, consider 
what happened when Descartes asked, "Of what may I be 
certain?" or when Newton asked, "How is a falling apple 
like a rising moon?" or when Marx asked, "Why were men 
born free but are everywhere in chains?" or when Freud 
asked, "What is the meaning of dreams?"

Your question is the quest you're on. No questions -- 
no journey. Timid questions -- timid trips. Radical questions
-- an expedition to the root of your being. Bon voyage.


Sam Keen, philosopher, teacher and author, has written 
many books about being human, including Apology for
Wonder, Fire in the Belly, To Love and Be Loved
, and 
Faces of the Enemy: Reflections of the Hostile Imagination.
The above article is reprinted here with the author's permission.
For information about Dr. Keen's workshops and his latest 
thoughts about life, please visit his web site at www.samkeen.com.

Editor's note: 

In presenting Dr. Keen's essay to you, I would like to include the
following advice:  Asking questions is a powerful human activity, 
and because of the power of questions, they can sometimes be 
experienced as rude or invasive by those who receive them. If you 
decide to ask someone one or more of the deep questions 
proposed in the above article, it would help your dialogue if you 
would begin with the kind of conversational openers described in 
Chapter 2 of the Workbook.  In general, when you want to have 
a conversation that will demand much effort from another person,
it helps to announce your intent to explore a particular topic and 
invite the consent of your prospective conversation partner.

Sam Keen has generously consented to the inclusion of this article as a reading in the Seven Challenges Workbook.  The text of this article is copyright 2000 by Sam Keen.


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