Ask and you shall receive an answer — maybe.

It used to be, when you attended a public hearing or a presentation by government reps, you could ask a question at the end. All you had to do was raise your hand, wait your turn, and eventually, state your question. Simple enough. Then, one of those presenters would do their best to answer it.

Same thing at a luncheon. Speaker gives a talk, you listen, and if you have a question, generally, there is time at the end. You could just stand up and shout it out loud enough for the speaker and everyone else to hear. The speaker would give it their best to answer, and there might even be some conversation and exchange.

Those really were the good old days.

It seems the old-fashioned holding your hand up, being called on, stating your question, went the way of the dinosaur. Next time you attend another public forum, see how they take questions. Chances are, simply asking it, out loud, will not be allowed. Such was the case when a politician was recently on Kauai. Such was the case when an elected official spoke at a luncheon. Such was the case when the CEO of an airline visited this island. Such was the case when details were presented on plans to improve the Kapaa/Wailua traffic corridor.

Got a question? Put it in writing.

These days, the format is, write your question. Yes, you must write it, submit it, and the presenters will consider whether they want to answer it. If they don’t, well, they’ll just shuffle past it until they get an easy, softball question: “Do you really think this plan will help alleviate traffic on Kauai?”

That one goes to the top of the pile.

Answer: “Yes, we do. We’re very confident it will alleviate traffic on Kauai.”

Next easy question, please.

Defenders of making people write questions instead of just asking them verbally say it helps maintain order, keeps things civil, improves the process, is more fair, gives everyone an equal chance. Blah blah blah.

We all know the real reason why the written question format replaced the verbal question: Difficult questions can be ignored and placed at the bottom of the stack. Heck, presenters if they so choose, could even write and ask their own questions, just to be sure they have the answers.

It also keeps the crowd from following up an answer with another question. Presenters don’t want to be caught unable to answer a question, so they just avoid the situation that could allow that to happen. Think about it. If a tough question is written on a slip of paper, and the presenter wants to avoid it, he or she just has to set it aside. Can’t do this with someone standing right there in front of you asking, watching, waiting, listening.

Of course, some officials avoid questions simply by talking too much, then, at the end, saying there is no time for questions, but feel free to submit them in writing and you’ll get an answer later. Just email your question, or text it, or instant message them, and they’ll get back to you next week. This is another tactic being used more often.

It’s too bad. You lose something in the process by requiring questions in writing. Verbal questions encourage more dialogue, more back and fourth, more exchange, more thinking and more revelations. Verbal questions lead to more creativity, more reasoned responses, more viewpoints and best of all, more solutions and suggestions. There’s more risk, which is good, as it pushes us to the edge.

Let’s go back to the old way of verbal questions at public presentations, whether it be on traffic or education or environment or politics, whether it be an elected official, an appointed one or a hired one. The tried and true of raise your hand, speak your piece, has worked for centuries and still works today — when it is allowed.

If necessary, we’ll even put that request in writing.


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