Book Preview: Why “The Four Questions”?

(Here’s an excerpt from my book “The Four Questions Every Monitoring Engineer is Asked”. To keep reading, check out this page for the print and ebook editions:

Judaism is a religion that seems to love questions (and the explanations, debates, and discussions they lead to) more than the answers themselves. I’m fond of telling coworkers that the answer to any question about Judaism begins with the words, “Well, that depends…” and ends two hours later when you have three more questions than when you started.

The fact that I grew up in an environment with such fondness for questions may be what led me to pursue a career in IT, and to specialize in monitoring. More on that in a bit.

But the ability to ask questions is nothing by itself. An old proverb says, “One fool can ask more questions than seven wise men can answer.” And that brings me back to the Pesach Seder. Near the start of the Seder meal, the youngest person at the table is invited to ask the Four Questions. They begin with question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The conversation proceeds to observe some of the ways that the Pesach meal has taken a normal mealtime practice and changed it so that it’s off-kilter, abnormal, noticeably different. For example, “Why,” asks one of the questions, “on most other nights do we not dip our food even once, but tonight we dip twice?”

Like many Jewish traditions, the reasoning behind the Four Questions has a simple answer, but that’s not where it ends. If you dig just a bit you find additional reasons that go surprisingly deep. As I said, at the surface, it’s done to demonstrate to children that questions are welcome. It’s a way of inviting everyone at the table to take stock of what is happening and ask about anything unfamiliar.

But the deeper message speaks to the nature of questions, and the responsibility of those who are expected to answer. “Be prepared,” it seems to say. “Questions can come from anywhere, about anything. Be willing to listen. Be willing to think before you speak. Be willing to say, ‘I don’t know, but let’s find out!’” The Four Questions also teaches us to be willing to look past trite answers. To be ready to reconsider, and to defend our position with facts. And perhaps most wonderfully of all, to be prepared to switch, at a moment’s notice, from someone who answers, to someone who asks.
Once again, I believe that being exposed to this tradition of open honesty and curiosity is what made (and still makes) the discipline of monitoring resonate for me.

It’s also, obviously, what provided the inspiration for the title of this book.

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