Big Questions: Why Do We Ask Them?

It’s important to check in within ourselves and question our experiences, values and assumptions from time to time. This blog piece is relevant to both parents and students in its approach to open dialogues and fostering curiosity. If your student is a first-year, make sure they know about “Big Question” group discussions! BQ is a great way for them to make new friends, gain trust with their peers and figure out what matters to them as young adults. Read on to see how BQ works, and learn why discussions with “no right answers” are so vital to student growth. 

An Office of Residential Education program, “Big Questions” (BQ) is a series of small group discussions in first-year housing communities at Carnegie Mellon University. For 10 years, BQ has urged students to reflect on their values, discover more about themselves, and develop a penchant for curiosity during their first year of college—a time when, as newly independent young adults, it’s particularly important to expand horizons, explore the world, question the heck out of things, and dream big.

Coordinator of Residential Education and Housefellow Mandy Best, who heads up Big Questions at CMU, says these daunting, philosophical questions are important, and giving ourselves time to reflect is equally important. “If we don’t occasionally ask ourselves ‘why am I here?’ we’re not living life to its fullest potential.”

What kind of questions does BQ ask? Past discussions have revolved around topics like love, the purpose of work, what is home and what makes a home, the meaning of life, and if we have to experience pain to feel love/happiness. So, BQ asks the BIG questions.


Here are five reasons why “Big Questions” matter.


  1. Lessons in Time

We all grow and change, and we all have moments where we look back and cringe at something we did or said. When we ask ourselves “big questions,” we’re doing a self-check in, to figure out what matters to us now and how that differs from what mattered to us then. How have we grown and evolved, how have we learned, and how do we see certain things anew? It’s likely we will all view love differently at the age of 25 versus the age of 45. By mulling over these types of questions, we reaffirm that we are capable of change – we aren’t static! It’s a good thing to have new opinions and ideas, and it’s also good to look back and see what led us to reconsider.


  1. Community Values

Four students talkingWe’re all part of multiple communities: familial, work, school, religious, political, etc. Asking these questions can allow us to see how we fit, or don’t fit, into these larger communities. In other words, we can define ourselves as individuals, with unique interests, seeing eye-to-eye with people in some respects and disagreeing with them in other respects. We also learn to be empathetic and listen to others. It’s important to ask ourselves how are our responses are colored by our own experiences.


  1. Individualism

Asking big questions is a way to find out if we’re being the people we aspire to be, or if we have more work to do. It allows us to delineate the way we see the world, and talk through exactly why we see it that way – why do we value this over that? How, culturally or otherwise, are we inclined to see something in a certain light? Asking these questions is being courageous enough to grapple with ourselves, a little bit. It gives us a framework: searching for something deeper, rather than a quick, default answer.  

A group of students working and talking together


“Asking big questions is a way to find out if we’re being the people we aspire to be, or if we have more work to do.”


  1. A Welcome Distraction

Sure, we all have things to attend to and stuff to get done. Responsibilities and stresses are constant! But big questions provide a wonderful chance to pause and meditate. We re-frame your mindset when we ask these lofty questions. If we work really hard, then what are we working for? What do we really want out of an experience, or a period of time in our life? How are we working towards that? Rather than getting too lost in the daily grind, we can remind ourselves of our larger purpose, and even find a sense of gratitude.


  1. To Ask More Questions!

Image of a question markSometimes asking one question leads to another question, and another, and then another. In a way, big questions are just brainstorming – a personal journey to figure out what matters most and what’s still nagging at us. Being curious, and delving deeply into any topic, always leaves the door wide open to discover something new. Asking questions is the foundation of learning, and that’s an important muscle to flex!


Do these thoughts about asking the big questions resonate with you?

What are some BIG questions you regularly ask yourself?

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