I am struck by the power of questions to disturb.
Inquisitive children of my generation, and I was one, became used to the admonishment, usually delivered by the mother, "Don't ask so many questions." As an adult, I understand how often that reply must have been prompted by exhaustion and the desperate wish for just 10 minutes—is that too much to ask, dear Lord?—free of our jibber-jabber. But after 40 years as a journalist and more than 20 years at Johns Hopkins, I also understand the extraordinary capacity of questions to unsettle and challenge.
Last August, when photos of Ferguson, Missouri, police officers confronting demonstrators with weaponry suitable for a battlefield appeared in the press, many of us asked, Why does a suburban police force have combat weaponry? What I didn't know at the time was that Kara Dansky, A&S '94, had been asking the same question and more on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union. Some of the answers that her questions produced are disturbing ("Serve & Protect?"). Though they're probably not as disturbing as what Bloomberg School researcher Gabriel Eber, SPH '02, found when he asked what happens when a prison inmate is subjected to long-term solitary confinement ("Heart of Darkness").
So much Johns Hopkins research leaves me optimistic—we are making progress understanding cancer, Alzheimer's disease, the structure of the universe, how to stop an epidemic from becoming a pandemic, and what's enduring about Mozart or Cicero. But sometimes, the answers produced by hard questions pierce the soul. Don't ask so many questions? No. Ask more.
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