The Power of Questions, a story

“You can eat the apple”, I said and gave him the green fruit.
It may have been the first time he’d ever seen an apple. First he just held it there and smelled it, but then he took a little bite.

“Mum – mum”, Mika said and took a bigger bite.

“Did it taste good?” I asked.
He bowed deeply.

I wanted to know how an apple tastes the very first time you taste it, so I asked again:

“How did it taste?”
He bowed and bowed.

“Why do you bow?” I asked.

Mika bowed again. It made me feel so confused, that I hurried to ask the question again.
“Why do you bow?”

Now it was he who became confused. I think he did not know if he should bow again or just answer.

“Where I come from we always bow when someone asks an interesting question” he explained – “and the deeper the question, the deeper we bow.”

That was the strangest thing I had heard in a long time. It had never occurred to me that a question was something to bow for.

“What do you do when you greet each other?”
“We try to find something wise to ask.” he said.
First he bowed quickly, because I had asked another question and then he said:
“We try to ask a wise question to get the other person to bow”.

I was so impressed by the answer that I bowed as deeply as I could. When I looked up Mika had put his finger in his mouth. After a long time he took it out.

“Why did you bow?” he asked, looking vaguely insulted.
“Because you answered my question so wisely,” I said.

He then said, very loudly and clearly, something that has followed me ever since:

“An answer is nothing to bow for. Even if an answer can sound ever so right, still you should not bow to it.”

I nodded briefly, but I regretted it at once, fearing Mika may think that I bowed to the answer he had just given.

“The one who bows shows respect”, Mika continued, “You should never show respect for an answer.”

“Why not?”
“An answer is always the part of the road that is behind you. Only questions point to the future.”

I found those words so wise I had to press my hands against my chin not to bow again……..

– Jostein Gaarder, 1996 in Norway


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