Questions for Conviviality

“Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” 

— Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903

What questions can you ask to help move an acquaintance into a real friendship?

Which questions are best to ask first, and which maybe should be asked later?

What questions are worth savoring – pondering – considering – without being in a hurry for answers?

What questions take us deeper into our own hearts, and into the hearts of others?  How can we listen mindfully to the answers?

How can we create a culture of questions on campus?

Below is a list of questions for you to ask at “virtual campfires” on campus, to post on sticky notes on your residence hall walls, to text and to email, to raise in class, to discuss in groups and clubs.  (Anyone in a “campfire” can “pass” on any question… no one should feel pressured to respond.  If you don’t feel like answering a question, you can just say: “I need to stare at the campfire for a while and ponder that question!”)

These questions can enrich your relationship with yourself and with other people.  But that enrichment is possible only when we are able to listen to answers with open minds and hearts.  Ask with mindfulness:  with curiosity and openness, withholding judgments or preconceptions.  Make room in your soul for surprising answers.  Ask with a desire to learn, grow, know, and love.  Don’t interrupt with comments or opinions – let the person fully answer the question, and let them know you are paying full attention.  Listening is what happens when we let the words of others sink in deep enough to take root.  Like soil must be broken and tilled to be ready for seeds, our souls must be broken open in order to make way for what others need to tell us.  This takes time!  So after you get an answer to your question, pause for a while to meditate on it before asking more questions or making any comments.  Often, when the answer to a question reveals some kind of suffering or difficulty, we’re tempted to respond right away with advice, or by telling stories from our own lives that are similar.  But this just deflects attention away from the person to whom we were listening, putting ourselves at the center of the conversation.  Often we do this in order to relieve our own discomfort with what we’ve just heard.  But if we’re truly listening, we’ll make room for that discomfort – paying mindful attention to it, without trying to end it or fix it.  More than anything else, our friends just need us to be present, listening silently with hearts open to what they have to say.  (For more, listen to this wonderful NPR radio show: The Act of Listening.  Also check out this article on the art of asking good questions.) 

This list is a work in progress!  Add your questions by submitting them to Rev. Jim Burklo, Senior Associate Dean of Religious Life.

More on enhancing friendship and conviviality at USC at Campfires @ USC

Ten questions to kindle a campfire:

  1.  What’s surprising about you?
  2.  What do you really wish you had known when you were younger?
  3.  What do you really want to know now?
  4.  What “unknown” or question is most interesting to you, in your field of work or study – and why?
  5.   What are you most grateful for?
  6.  When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?
  7.  What keeps you up at night?
  8.  What is weird about you?
  9.   What does friendship mean to you?
  10.   What are you afraid of?

Questions about friendship:

1.  What question or event helped you and an acquaintance become friends?

2.  What are the levels of friendship for you – social media friends, your “network”, close friends, etc?  What are the differences between these kinds of friends?

3.  How many true friends can you have, really? and why?

4.  Of your friends, pick one:  how has that friend changed and shaped your life?

5.  What would make it easier to make and keep real friends on campus?

6.  How do you know when somebody is really listening to you?

7.  Have you ever felt betrayed by a friend, and if so, what was that like for you?

8.  Are you grieving the loss of any friendship or other relationship right now?

36 Questions on the Way to Love – New York Times-  nytimes.com/36q –

  1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest, and why?
  2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
  3. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
  4. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
  5. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
  6. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
  7. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
  8. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
  9. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
  10. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
  11. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
  12. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
  13. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
  14. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
  15. What do you value most in a friendship?
  16. What is your most treasured memory?
  17. What is your most terrible memory?
  18. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
  19. What does friendship mean to you?
  20. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
  21. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
  22. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
  23. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
  24. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … “
  25. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “
  26. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
  27. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
  28. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
  29. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
  30. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
  31. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
  32. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
  33. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
  34. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
  35. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

The Six Types of Socratic Questions:  a helpful resource.

Lots more questions:

What random stranger has had the biggest impact on your life?

What are you missing that would enable you to know what you are missing?

What achievement are you proud of but most people would consider silly or weird?

What is something you think you will regret in the future not starting now and what is something you already regret not starting sooner?

What is beauty?

What could you talk about all day long?

What do you wish you could believe, but can’t quite believe?

Of your beliefs, which are most worth questioning?

What part of your culture are you most and least proud of?

What’s the worst and best thing for you about your gender?

What nouns cannot, or ought not, be the subjects of declaratory sentences?

What matters most: freedom to, or freedom from?

Are we all in it together?  or are we in it separately?

If you could put your brain in a robot and live indefinitely, would you?

Where do you find more truth:  in the front page of a newspaper, or in myth/poetry?

What is the basis or source of your ethics and morality?

How do you get from “but” to “and”, from “against” to “through”, from “for to “with”?

If you could replace the handshake as a greeting, what interesting new greeting would you replace it with?

Who’s the worst guest you’ve had in your house and what did they do?

What is your greatest regret? – your greatest success?

What is the riskiest thing you have ever done?

How old are you, emotionally?

What intolerable behavior from others are you tolerating?

Are you living your values?

What do you deserve?  Anything?

What does intimacy mean to you?

Who in your life is making you roll your eyes?

When does time pass fastest for you and when does it pass the slowest?

Have you ever experienced eternity?

What always sounds like a good idea at the time but rarely is?

Are you an animal?

What pictures or paintings have had a big impact on you – how, why?

What movie or book character are you most similar to?

You can broadcast one sentence to every podcast, TV channel, and radio in the world and have it translated to each country’s language. What sentence do you say?

What fact are you really surprised that more people don’t know about?

What are you completely over and done with?

For you, what is the purpose of life?

What memory do you just keep going back to?

What’s the most immature thing your parents do?

Have you ever had to raise your parents?  Why/how?

What are you most passionate about and what do you wish you were more passionate about?

Who haven’t you seen or talked to in a long time and hope they are doing okay?

Where is the last place you would ever go?

Who is the humblest person you know?

What question do you wish people would stop asking you?

What is your favorite video/TV show?

What’s the most ridiculous argument you’ve had?

What’s the biggest lesson life has taught you?

What’s the weirdest tradition your family has?

If you could choose anyone living or dead, who would you choose to lead our country?

What is something that you think people are only pretending to like or are deluding themselves into liking?

What joke went way too far?

What is your very first memory?

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve said or done around someone you had a crush on?

Who is your favorite actor or actress?  What quality about them is most impressive?

What doesn’t exist but you desperately want / need it?

If you could hear every time someone said something good about you or something negative about you, which would you choose?

What do you wish you could re-live?

Before making a call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

What sentence can you say that makes total sense now but would seem insane 20 years ago?

How decisive or indecisive are you?

If you were given $5,000 to give the most amount of happiness to the most amount of people, what would you do?

What piece of culture or trend has died out, but you would like to see it make a comeback?

What’s something from your childhood that used to be common but now is pretty rare?

What kinds of things are normal now but will be highly valued antiques a century later?

What’s something horrible that we as humans have accepted, because that’s just how things are; but actually things don’t have to be that way at all?

What was the worst phase you went through?

If you were an action figure, what accessories would you be sold with?

What was something you ate regularly as a child but now cringe at the thought of eating?

What’s something you learned recently that you really should have already known?

Whom do you make happy?

What’s an innocent mistake you made that had dramatic consequences?

What’s in your pockets right now?

Which would you choose:  100 new social media friends, or just one new true friend?

What’s the best piece of advice someone has given you?

When do you need advice, and when do you wish people would not give you advice?

What do you think people automatically assume about you when they look at you?

Looking back on your life, what have you done that has given you the most satisfaction?

What do you wish you had more time for?

When was the last time you had a gut feeling about something that turned out to be correct? How about a time your gut feeling was wrong?

What’s your “and then it got worse” story?

What’s the biggest lie that someone told you?

What would be the worst thing to put into a piñata?

What was a huge deal when it happened but now everyone seems to have forgotten about it?

If you could dedicate your life to solving one problem, what problem would you choose?

What’s your favorite way to meet new people?

What website or app has completely changed your life for better or for worse?

What makes you feel old?

Who is or was your greatest rival?

What’s your favorite non-drug / non-alcohol high?

What’s the worst thing you’ve heard one person say to another person?

What was your most memorable dream or nightmare?  What did it tell you about your life?

What have you gotten too old to put up with?

What’s the most ridiculous thing you have convinced someone is true?

What event would you like to know the whole and complete truth about?

What type of design style do you like most? From architecture, interior design, art, cars, phones or whatever.  How does this style affect you?

What always lets you down and what never lets you down?

What’s something you completely changed your mind about and went from believing one thing to believing the exact opposite?

If you could know one truth about yourself, history, the world, or even the universe, what truth would you want to know?

Assuming you name inanimate objects, what are some names for inanimate objects you own or have owned? (i.e. cars, computers, shoes, etc.)

What question have you always wanted to ask, but were too afraid of looking stupid?

What would your warning label say if every person was required to have one?

What weird childhood fear do you still hold on to?

What’s the best decision you’ve ever made?

What’s the most embarrassing thing that has fallen out of your bag?

What’s something that only someone from where you grew up would understand?

What would make the world more interesting if it was a different color?

What makes someone a “good” person?

What would the trailer to a movie about your life be like?

What kind of old person would you like to become?

If you could custom design an organ for yourself, what would it do and where would it go?

Do you think that humans as a species have gotten better through the generations or worse? Why?

What or who would you sacrifice your life for?

What is the most important thing a person can do to improve themselves?

What single event has had the biggest impact on who you are?

Do you think the future will be better than the present? Why?

What’s the most crucial thing for a healthy relationship?

What’s the most extreme example of poverty you have seen, and what do you think can be done about it?

Is it better to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?