Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

When The Only Thing We Need Is To Get Out of Our Own Way

Seek the questions. There is no right answer.

Jodi Barnes, PhD
5 min readApr 12, 2020


James Thurber once said, “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”

I believe in this 14-word philosophy as much as I believe in the Golden Rule, gravity, and, as Ram Dass said, “We’re all just walking each other home.”

Yet I keep looking for answers. Eureka ones. The ones that will strike me down on my private Road to Damascus. The answers to these questions:

Why can’t I write the things I want to?

Why am I stuck and what am I stuck on, exactly?

Seeking answers — I’m particularly fond of asking why — is a hard habit to break. A habit that has always had legs in my neurotic pacings, but has grown arms during shelter-in-place. Today I noticed that a skull has begun to form.

The idea of finding the right answer is simple. To be instructed is alluring. A reflection of humans’ ostensible need to be led. To be comforted by direction and validation. You do it this way. Just say the Sinner’s Prayer. Seven Things You Need to Stop Doing Right Now (click here).

No wonder modern methods of testing reflect this kind of seeking. The simple binary: is it true or false? And the multiple choice ones, meant to tempt us with doubt: two may sound good, but which is the best, most rightest answer?

Breaking bits down for us to more easily digest and throw up on a test.

Photo by Jodi Barnes; art by Sarah Bill

For years, a piece of construction paper with Thurber’s quote stenciled by my then 8-year-old daughter, was taped to my office wall at NC State University. I taught undergraduate and graduate classes at the business school for 11 years.

Although compelled to ask 300 students in my auditorium sections to bubble in their best and tidy answers to questions via Scantron forms, I knew this was a disservice to them. When testing smaller classes (60 or fewer), I preferred short answer and essay formats to pose…



Jodi Barnes, PhD

Writer and Collaborator-in-Chief of where small acts of writing, art and conversation create multicultural connections for good.