Radical Questions for Critical Times


Rumor has it that on leaving the Garden of Eden, Adam said to Eve: “My dear, we are living in an age of transition.”

Ordinarily, life proceeds ordinarily. We dwell securely within the garden of the protective myths, values, and paradigms of our society; our questions are about making a living,  purchasing the things we have been taught to desire, raising our children, and keeping up with the neighbors. But times of crisis challenge our comfortable assumptions about who we  are and force us to ask more radical questions. Carl Jung reached such a point at midlife when he realized that he didn’t know what myth he had been living.

Since permanent change is here to stay and crises and transitions are an inevitable part of the human condition, a wise person will hone some of the skills necessary for thriving in troubled times. Think of the crises every Adam and Eve must negotiate as composed of three interlocking circles: identity crises, love crises, social crises. It follows that the radical questions we most need to ask in times of transition (when  our world is burning) are those addressed to the solitary self,  those concerning the intimate relationship between I and thou,  and those that have to do with the commonwealth within which  we live and move and have our being.


What is happening to me?

What comes next for me?

What is the source and meaning of my

restlessness, dissatisfaction, longing, anxiety?

What do I really desire?

What have I not brought forth that is within me?

What have I contributed to life?

What are my gifts? My vocation?

What ought I to do? Who says?

What does my dream-self know that “I” don’t?

What story, myth, values, authorities, institutions inform my life?

What is my ultimate concern?

How faithful am I to my best vision of myself?

At whose expense has my wealth, security,

and happiness been purchased?


Whom do I love?

By whom am I loved?

Am I more loved or loving?

How intimate are we?

How close is close enough?

What are we doing together?

Do we help each other broaden and deepen the reach

of our caring, to become more compassionate?

What clandestine emotions fear, anger, resentment,

guilt, shame, sorrow, desire for revenge – keep us

from being authentic with each other?

When do our vows and promises become a prison from

which I and thou must escape to preserve the

integrity of our separate beings?

Can we renew our passion and commitment?

When is it time to say goodbye?


Who is included within the “we,” the community,

the polis that encompasses and defines my being?

Who is my neighbor?

For whom, beyond the circle of my family, do I care?

Who are my enemies?

To what extremes would I go to defend my country?

Can I be just, loving, merciful, and be loyal to my

profession, my corporation, my country?

If we were to measure our success by Gross National

Happiness (the national standard of Bhutan) how   would our economic, political, educational, and religious institutions change?

What would have to happen to convince sovereign nations to wage peace rather than expending their wealth and  creativity in producing more deadly and genocidal weapons?


If you doubt that asking a new question is a royal  road to revolution, transformation, and renewal, consider  what happened when Descartes asked, “Of what may I be  certain?” or when Newton asked, “How is a falling apple  like a rising moon?” or when Marx asked, “Why were men  born free but are everywhere in chains?” or when Freud  asked, “What is the meaning of dreams?”

Your question is the quest you’re on. No questions —  no journey. Timid questions — timid trips. Radical questions — an expedition to the root of your being. Bon voyage.