Remember this little joke? It was one that I liked telling when I was in grade school to demonstrate how witty I was for a 12-year-old. “When Noah’s Ark came to rest on the mountain, Noah said to all the animals, ‘Go forth and multiply.’ All of the creatures came out of the ark except the adders. When Noah called them to come, they refused and Noah asked them why? They said, ‘We can’t come, were adders, we can’t multiply.” Groan. That was usually the response I got. The core of that little pun, however, was the question that Noah asked. You leave that out and the joke isn’t funny. The adders had set Noah up as the straight man and he fell for it. Noah became Oliver Hardy or Bud Abbott, to the adder’s Stan Laurel or Lou Costello. That’s what made the joke funny–to a 12-year-old audience that is.
Questions can set up the straight man and make a bad joke funny. In that regard questions are a pretty powerful part of language. I use them a lot as a writer, often setting up an entire chapter of a book or some research with a simple question. Questions get people thinking. Sometimes they sail down a broader path of understanding on nothing but a simple question. Questions can be countered with questions as well. This makes them even more powerful. Debating an issue based on a foundation work of counter questions can be both instructive and entertaining. There is a real art to this type of debate. However, there is also a dark side to questions. I find it personally very frustrating to the point of stressful when a substantive question is asked and the answer is avoided with an response that isn’t in any way germane to the question. When someone does this with a straight face I find it maddening.
I’ve had some minor heart issues that have crept up over the last few years. I wear a Fitbit monitoring device that tracks my exercise routine, daily diet, and also my heart rate. One thing I’ve noticed is there are certain stressors that can elevate my heart rate, causing some minor chest pains. I’ve got to watch those triggers. One such trigger, I’ve discovered, is people who don’t answer clearly stated questions. Some people might find this amusing. I don’t. There is just something about a response coming from an intelligent person that is purposely misleading or obscure. It triggers my emotions, elevates my stress levels, affecting my heart rate. Have you noticed that this seems epidemic as of late? It could be just me, but I’ve noticed that more and more intelligent people are putting up a false front of stupidity that I find hard to tolerate. “Answer the question!” I find myself talking to the television news on a regular basis pleading with people to please answer the question. I should be more tolerant because I know that when a person is uncomfortable answering a question they will often avoid an answer by substituting an implausible response to a plausible question. It’s human nature. I should be at least more understanding, not so reactionary. It’s a bug-a-boo, as we called it as kids–something that simply bugged us and we had no good way of dealing with it. So, do me a favor . . . keep it light and set me up as the straight man. I can handle that. Answer my question with one of your own. Great, no problem! But if you’re tempted to respond with nonsense, a simple no will do?
Mark it blogged!