07 November 2010

What Was Good About It?

I’ve been thinking that a question I want to stop asking my children—and not a few others as well—is  “Did you have a good time?” The question is ubiquitous: when they return from a party we ask, “Did you have a good time?” After a school field trip I wonder to them, “Did you have a good time?” When someone returns from a vacation we say, “So, how was it?” I think that the question comes in several permutations: at the end of the film we turn to each other and wonder aloud, “Did you like the movie?” When the children enter the house after a day in school I ask, “How was your day?”

The problem with the question(s) is that all is required from is in response is a single word answer—good, bad, ok, yes, no, eh-- and doesn’t really open the floor for conversation. The question makes it too possible for the children and others to answer and run upstairs to their rooms and close the door behind them to engage in meaningful communication, usually on the internet.

I find that when someone asks me that question I am stunned to silence. I don’t know what to answer: the question calls for a simple categorization to a complex experience that cannot be addressed by absolute value judgments. I don’t want to answer “yes,” to did I have a good time, nor can I merely respond ‘good’ (or ‘not good’ as the case might be) as a valuation of a film, or thater production, or concert or even a television show.  Or even to breakfast with the men on Sunday mornings.

No, the more appropriate question seems to be: “What was interesting about your day?” “What did you find interesting in the film?” “What did you think about today that you found interesting?” Or “What did you like (or not like) about fill-in-the blank, etc. These questions, it seems now to me, to expand the space for talk rather than to circumvent that space. Now, I am aware that I am assuming that the person to whom I ask these questions might have desire to engage with me in conversation, but perhaps even if they would not be so inclined, they would still be required to respond, “I’m not interested in sharing that information with you (right now or even ever!).” In which case I would have learned a great deal, I think.


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