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Vol 19|No 1| October|2022

© J. McKenzie

When will this end?

by Jamie McKenzie

(about author)
High on the list of essential questions we ask during our lives is “When will this end?" Schools should help students to wrestle with such questions.

We ask them when a pandemic strikes or a war drags on or a family member descends into the hell of drug addiction or cancer.

While essential indeed, these questions are usually frustratingly unanswerable in some sense. Try as we may to tackle them, they elude and defy us, often dragging on and persisting far longer than we might have ever predicted or wished.

This was certainly true with COVID, as you see me pictured above getting my first shot of vaccine in Istanbul where I was living in 2021.

For more than 25 years I have urged schools to acquaint students with the powerful use of the different kinds of questions included in the Questioning Toolkit shown below where Unanswerable Questions like those mentioned in this article are included:

A Questioning Toolkit

Each district should create a Questioning Toolkit which contains more than a dozen kinds of questions and questioning tools. This Questioning Toolkit should be printed in large type on posters which reside on classroom walls close by networked, information-rich computers.

Portions of the Questioning Toolkit should be introduced as early as Kindergarten so that students can bring powerful questioning technologies and techniques with them as they arrive in high school.

Essential Questions Subsidiary Questions Hypothetical Questions Telling Questions Planning Questions
Organizing Questions Probing Questions Sorting & Sifting Questions Clarification Questions Strategic Questions
Elaborating Questions Unanswerable Questions Inventive Questions Provocative Questions Irrelevant Questions
Divergent Questions Irreverent Questions

I devoted a chapter to unanswerable questions in my book Leading Questions:

Even though many questions may be unanswerable in the sense that no definitive, clear conclusions can be reached, those same questions are often crucial. Their resistance to analysis makes them no less important. A team’s success may depend upon wrestling with elusive, frustrating questions and issues. In some cases, survival may require such skill.

Wrestling with unanswerable questions is related to what some call managing ambiguity. Earlier chapters have warned of grasping for false certainties or imposing wishful thinking upon complex realities. With sharp questioning skills, team members can approach understanding, but in many cases they must approximate answers and keep things somewhat open and imprecise.

A team learns to bat around these questions over time much like a cat toys with a captured mouse. In no hurry to end the game or eat its prey, the cat prolongs the ordeal in a way that seems cruel.

Unanswerable questions may taunt us for a lifetime, eluding and frustrating our efforts to find satisfying answers. Some people will find such questions so irritating that they will swallow simplistic answers on the basis of faith rather than continue the struggle.

This chapter is continued here.

When will the Russian war against the Ukraine end?

No one knows the answer to this question, and yet there are millions of good people asking this question each day as fatalities and atrocities mount thanks to Putin's foolish and criminal invasion.

Some are already speculating that Putin's mismanagement of the war will lead to a coup d'état led by members of his inner circle who will see his foolhardy behavior for what it is -- a risky and costly failure that will damage Russia for decades to come.

This prediction may be wishful thinking, but looking back at Hitler's turbulent years, we can see that assassination was very much on the minds of those concerned about his dangerous path. A long list of these attempts is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_assassination_attempts_on_Adolf_Hitler.

In recent months, I have written a half dozen poems attacking Putin for his outrageous war crimes, and as the war grinds along, I have come to hope for swift regime change, believing that his conscription of 300,000 Russian citizens will finally raise the concern and consciousness of his inner circle to the madness which led him to launch and then mismanage the invasion.

A Lomonosov teapot

© J. McKenzie

Putin unhinged

He became unhinged
Verging on insane
But hiding it well
An Emperor with no clothes
But crazy dreams
And many yes men
Singing his praise
Praising his plans
While stealing from the army
And raking in the rubles
As supply trucks sank into decline
The great army a sham

Until one day
Whispering began
And doubts surfaced
While thousands lay dying
His soldiers retreating
His army in shambles
His pipe dream a war crime
His mastery a myth

Until one day they cursed him
Declaring him unfit
A maniac
A madman
A criminally incompetent fool
Whose time had come
A dose of polonium-210
Slipped into his Lomonosov tea pot
Ended finally
His war
His nightmare
And his regime

Taking the long view

While it is tempting to indulge wishful thinking and predict an early end to a pandemic or a war, a long delay is more likely. COVID has defied such predictions and proved more resilient than most had hoped. When a disease or a war drags on and on, we might call that the "worst case scenario."

Insanity complicates the task of predicting the actions of leaders like Putin, but knowing what we know about his persona and self-concept, it is difficult to see him retreating or surrendering his perverted dream of restoring Russia to its former glory while liberating Ukrainian citizens and making them become Russian citizens whether they like it or not.

For a bully and a tyrant like Putin or Hitler, there can be no failure -- no retreat. If things are going badly in their war, they will throw good money after bad, send even more young troops to die in a lost cause, double-down, and bet the ranch. They will turn up the heat, raise the stakes, gambling that increased atrocities will weaken the enemy's resolve.

From the beginning of his invasion, Putin has shown himself to be shockingly ignorant when appraising the resolve of his opponent and the Ukrainian people in general. He fully expected a brief campaign and a warm welcome. Instead, he and his warriors were met by an increasingly determined and skillful populace determined to send the Russians packing.

At a time when the democratic norms of nations like the USA and Poland are threatened by would-be despots, it is inspiring to watch the Ukrainian people pushing back against the Russian onslaught, refusing to bow to the will of self-proclaimed savior and Messiah like Putin.

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FNO Press is applying for formal copyright registration for articles. Unauthorized abridgements are illegal.