The 8 Questions focus a person’s attention, systematically, on what successful, empathetic people often consider when making decisions—the criteria they use to decide. Successful, empathetic people often ask some version of the 8 Questions spontaneously, without even thinking about it. They consider, routinely, many of the same aspects of day-to-day living that the 8 Questions are designed to draw attention to:
- Is this safe?
- Does this enhance security?
- Does this need to be done right away?
- What’s relevant to the decision I'm making?
Unlike the 8 Questions, the questions above do not direct attention in a way that quickly resolves the question. The above questions do, however, highlight the same areas of day-to-day living as the first four Questions.
By focusing attention on what successful, empathetic people often consider when making decisions, the 8 Questions make successful decision-making substantially easier to learn.
The 8 Questions also make use of a set of distinctions that highlight important differences in the world around us. These distinctions support flexible decision-making because (a) they're precise, and (b) they're useful. They're also uncommon: few people routinely draw the exact distinctions upon which the 8 Questions method is based.
Step outside at night and look up at the stars. Then, spend a clear evening outside with an amateur astronomer. Visit a modern art museum by yourself. Then, visit with a modern art aficionado. In either case, what you see afterward—in the sky, or when looking at modern art—will be different than what you saw before. Precise, useful distinctions—the kinds you might learn from an astronomer about the heavens, or from a modern art fan about modern art—don’t merely change appreciation; they change perception.
When more of what we're perceiving makes sense, we actually perceive more. By teaching precise, useful distinctions, the 8 Questions use the power of language to actually improve perception.
Most people gloss over differences in the world within and around them—even important differences—because, as one learner put it: “we all know what we’re talking about anyway.”
In some respects, of course: we do. We all live in the same world. Yet in other respects: we don’t. The distinctions we make shape what we perceive. Distinctions draw our attention to some aspects of reality and away from others. Precise, useful distinctions foster clarity—and with that clarity, greater courage, contentment, confidence, and stability. Imprecise or disempowering distinctions breed confusion.
Whether this confusion seems slight and manageable (as it does for most neurotypical people), or whether this confusion seems overwhelming and causes decision-making to grind to a halt (as it frequently does for many people on the autism-spectrum, as well as people with stress-response syndromes), drawing good distinctions is nevertheless helpful. Sound distinctions help us perceive more clearly, without expending any more effort—and clearer perception empowers flexible decision-making.
Distinctions like the difference between “good” and “right” (explored in the same lesson as Question 1) are powerful, not only because they highlight aspects of reality that, for many people, have seemed hazy at best, but also because they equip the people making them to “speak the same language.”
The distinctions behind the 8 Questions empower communication.
When people with autism-spectrum conditions, stress-response syndromes, or processing disorders make different distinctions than the rest of the population, “connecting” with people who draw different distinctions—in most cases more general, flexible, overlapping distinctions—can be a challenge.
Unfortunately, general, flexible, overlapping distinctions are also equivocations: they routinely confuse people whose thinking isn’t yet as flexible. Imprecise, or improper, distinctions can even feel like lies. They damage trust; they undermine rapport.
The distinctions that undergird the 8 Questions aren’t like this—but nor are they overly rigid: they draw attention to differences in the “real world” that have been “hidden in plain sight,” but which often seem obvious when people stop to consider them. When two people—one who struggles and one who doesn’t struggle as much or as often—learn the 8 Questions together, they develop a common language. They can consider what’s happening using criteria that makes sense to both of them.
A mother and son connect. A father enters his child’s world. Siblings understand each other. The 8 Questions—and the distinctions behind them—are that powerful.