A Meaningful Question

In college, everyone had “that” professor – the one person who did more than most to introduce them to a new world view, shape their ideas, get them excited and inspired about education. I was lucky in that I had three: Dr. Louis H. Mackey, who taught me a little about Ethics, Dr. Michael Adams who tried to teach me Advanced Expository Writing (blame him – he’s the one who passed me) and Dr. Richard C. C. Kim who got me so excited about Political Science that I thought I should make it my major. Little did I know that what he taught me had more to do with philosophy than politics.

I took every class that Dr. Kim taught, sitting at his feet in my mind trying to absorb everything he said. I wasn’t Dr. Kim’s best student by far, but that didn’t stop me from eagerly anticipating each class in a vain attempt to will myself to be more like Dr. Kim. He was one of “those” professors – the one other students warned you not to take, but you knew better than to heed their warnings. With his offbeat teaching style and radical views, he was a far cry above the professors who merely wanted you to “read chapter 3 and answer the questions at the end of the section.” In fact, most of my core beliefs about politics and political philosophy come from this man and his out of print book “Kimbrations: Reflections of a Philistine”.

We students spent a lot of time in “Plato’s Cave” (a room filled with articles and books set aside by Dr. Kim to study politics and philosophy) looking for truths and looking for meaningful questions. To Dr. Kim, a meaningful question was not “how are you doing?” (He would argue that the person who asked had no actual interest in how you were actually doing, he just wanted to hear the word “fine” so he could shuffle down the hall and be done with the social obligation.) In fact, if you made the mistake and asked Dr. Kim how he was doing, he would tell you exactly how he was doing, which was always a bit startling because it was never “fine” or “well”. Dr. Kim’s example of a bad question would be, “what color is my underwear?” He would state (and I hope I’m doing this justice after 20 years) that because it was a very answerable question, it was not worthy of being asked. The kinds of questions he was looking for took some thought. Those were good questions; the kind that forced you to think.

What this all is leading to is my birthday and the present that I want from my friends/family. Since it’s a 0 birthday, I’m allowed to do something a little different. I want to ask my friends and family a few questions that they answer and give to me as a birthday present, but I’m stumbling because I can’t think of truly “good” questions. I want something beyond those e-mail chains of “What is your favorite color?” “What is your favorite movie?” or “What color is your underwear?” – while they are arguably interesting (depending on whose asking) they don’t really tell me much about you. I want to know you.

So, I’m asking you as my readers. What is a good question to you? (Seth? Tony? Lori? Pam?) – something Dr. Kim or the metaphoric blind man, Johnny Alameda, that Dr. Kim invoked in many a class, would see as good.

6 thoughts on “A Meaningful Question

  1. Beth says:

    Lori & Pam,I want to thank you both for really taking the time to think about these questions. I’m forwarding them on to my “Beth’s Birthday Book” committee (of two) – yes, I’m geeky enough to put someone in charge. 🙂

  2. Lori says:

    Oh, oh, oh…this is SUCH a good idea. I want to play, I want to play (and by play I mean copy you and do the same thing…). But the questions, the questions…that is tough. I think you should ask questions that are IMPOSSIBLE to answer and will really freak your friends out. You know, something like “the ship with all of your friends and family on it is sinking and you can save only one person before the rest are eaten by sharks – who is it?”Now before anyone gets offended, let me say JUST KIDDING.I think you should ask some version of “What type of legacy do you hope to leave behind when you’re gone?” or “What three words describe you best?”.Or, what is your favorite movie…

  3. Pam says:

    I think, if you wanted to tie this to your birthday and your “0” year, it might be fun to do something like this:Pick a few questions and ask people to answer them from the perspective they think they had for each 0 year they’ve passed, and for where they are now. For example:– What were your goals at that time? Why?– What did love mean to you then? Why? (the whys always make it more fun : )– Paint a short picture, with words, of what that time in your life was like.Then, if you wanted, you could ask people to project ahead to their next 0 birthday and answer the questions you pick from where they hope to be then. If your friends really like to write, coud also ask them to look over what they’ve written and talk about what has or hasn’t changed over the years, and why … but that’s probably only if your friends like to write : )!!!

  4. Pearl Joslyn says:

    Found this by chance. He’s my great grandpa! It’s wonderful to get a perspective from one of his former students.

    • Beth says:

      Pearl,
      I wrote this piece about 9-10 years ago, and as I read it I see it still doesn’t do justice to your grandfather. He was quite simply an AMAZING professor, and to this day I still think about him and his classes. I remember his stories – little things about Hawaii – the man who was saved from a sugarcane processing machine, the phrase “even Johnny Almeida could see that,” a humorous story about the first time he was on a plane piloted by a Korean pilot and his reaction. He was funny, smart, deeply philosophical, and a wonderful teacher; he broadened my world view. And of all the professors I had in college, he is the one that always to this day I still see as hands-down the best professor I had. When I transferred UT the one thing I regretted was not being able to enroll in just one more of his classes. (I wish I had been one of his better students.) SFA was lucky to have him. Oh, a complete aside – I learned how to build a non-wobbly chair, and to also cut cheese properly – all lessons you’d learn in his class along with politics, and Eastern/Western political thought. 🙂

      Thank you and your family for letting us borrow him throughout the years so we could sit at his feet and learn a little more about the world.

      • Pearl Joslyn says:

        Of course! It’s wonderful to learn more about him as a professor (I believe he had retired by the time I was born haha). He still philosophizes to me when I ask him anything haha.

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