“I do not pretend to possess equal frankness with your ladyship. You may ask questions, which I shall not choose to answer.”
Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice
The Daily Prompt is Compromise which reminds me of Shaun White at the Olympics.
Derailing a Press Conference
In the 2018 Winter Games, Shaun White won his third gold medal in snowboarding. He deserved it. His winning run was amazing; it was poetry on the half-pipe. He gave a news conference afterward on what it was like to win a third gold medal. It was going along well until a reporter asked him about allegations of past sexual misconduct. Awkward. White was prepped and primed for questions about the Olympics, his medal run, snowboarding, his competitors, and suddenly he was faced with an off-topic question. He cobbled together an answer that some people judged as unsatisfactory. But who could blame him? His mind was racing down one track when it was blindsided by a reporter on another. In my opinion, Shaun White’s problem was that he attempted to answer the question in the first place. He needed to realize that not all questions deserve an answer, especially the ones that are off topic.
Diverting a Class Lecture
Students are adept at asking off-topic questions. They do it to divert the lesson from a boring subject to one that is more interesting. I used this tactic myself to great effect. Once, at the beginning of a class on business law, I asked the teacher about his stint in the navy. What followed was an entertaining fifty-minute monologue about life on a navy ship. It was hilarious. A wise teacher would have recognized what I was attempting and would not have been distracted. (On the other hand, perhaps the teacher was just as bored by business law as we were and was glad for an excuse to change the subject.) The point is: Not all questions need to be answered.
Delivering a Sale
Phone solicitors use questions as a selling tool. They want to know all sorts of things about you, trying to get you to compromise your privacy. What was your energy bill last month? How much do you pay for homeowners’ insurance? What is your social security number? Do you wear boxers or briefs? (Okay, I made up the last one.) Whatever the questions, phone solicitors know if they can get you to answer, then they have a chance at selling you something. However, one is not under any obligation to answer their questions.
Dissembling an Opinion
Donald Trump seems to have learned this lesson since he became president. He provides all sorts of non-answers to the many questions reporters lob at him. Of course, that then becomes the story.
- Donald Trump refuses to answer questions on immigration.
- The President ignored repeated questions about Rob Porter’s wives.
- BREAKING NEWS! When asked if he planned to release his 2017 tax return, Donald Trump looked out the window.
At each press conference, I can sense the reporters’ frustration as their questions go unanswered. I feel sorry for them; after all, they are human, they have a job to do, but they are going about it the wrong way. Pestering Trump with off-topic questions only strengthens his resolve not to answer them. There is a way to get people like him to answer questions, but it involves emotional manipulation, something I consider unethical.
Declining an Answer
I stumbled on the power of emotional manipulation accidentally when I was a teacher, sort of like Andrew Fleming and penicillin. Actually, it was more like discovering how to split an atom. It was a powerful, yet dreadful tool. It was like Ice-Nine in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle. Once I used it the first time, I just could not use it again. That is why if anyone wants to know how to get people to answer off-topic questions, I will not answer. Not every question deserves an answer. I do not compromise my no.