Five years as a newspaper reporter plus a kind of insistent curiosity about things has brought me around to a pretty-much conclusion: Ask the simple questions. More often than not, the complex questions betray more confusion on the part of the questioner than they do any profound delving. The simple questions are enough and have a much better yield.
I was thinking about this bias after I watched a show called "Modern Marvels" on TV yesterday. The series seems to address obvious issues ... nothing Ph.D. about it. Yesterday's segment was about coffee -- its history, its delights, its making, its business, its social implications ... just the panorama of what constitutes an obvious segment of the society I live in. The show seemed to attempt an answer to the simple question of coffee-how-come. And there were a lot of interesting tidbits from Ethiopia and Turkey to the upscale Starbucks chain. During the Middle Ages, people were given to drinking alcohol as a substitute for the often polluted water ... and as a result wandered around in a fog. And coffee sharpened the wits of those required to participate in the Industrial Revolution that came later. Etc.
The simple questions are the questions that everyone has -- the honest stuff that lies below the veneer of intelligence and wit. How does it work? How can I be happy? What makes this a part of the society and mindset in which I live?
Picking up pizza yesterday, I was standing in line when a boy of about three looked up into my face and said, "You got a boo-boo." An inch-and-a-half-square bandage was plastered above my left eyebrow where a dermatologist had removed a small cyst that morning. The boy said what was most obvious to anyone looking at me...the kind of stuff no one else was likely to mention ... good manners, right? So the two of us had a small conversation about the obvious -- boo-boos and how I had a bandage just the same as he might get one from his mom when he scraped an elbow.
To others listening, I think there was a sense of mild embarrassment or oh-isn't-he-cute/kids-say-the-damnedest-things. But I felt utterly at home: Why wouldn't we share information about the obvious? We were human beings and curious and purring like a couple of cats.
Why do we credit something called the ineffable? Is it really worth the effort? What draws us to consider or disdain one thing or another? Is what is called good really necessary and if so why? It's no big deal any more than my boo-boo was a big deal ... just a moment or two of socializing while we waited our turn in the pizza line. Pretty obvious, don't you think?
Have a cup of coffee. :)