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Don’t Use Rhetorical Questions to Impart Knowledge

By 440 Dana Mancuso]
Bigg Success Contributor

Life Skills


Recently, I drove with my son across town to visit a park in another neighborhood.  I parked on a side street that I have never parked on before.

It seemed a suitable place to park. No yellow lines on the curb. White signs on the opposite side of the street. After about 40 minutes, we returned to the car just as a city parking enforcement worker pulled up alongside it.

I proceeded to strap my son in.

The woman inside the city vehicle asked, "Is there a reason you parked on the wrong side of the street?"
I wondered to myself: Does she really want me to answer that?

What kind of answer would be satisfactory?

I could say, “Yes, I always park on the wrong side of the street. I am eager for tickets and am itching to get my car hit so my insurance rates can go WAY up!”
Or perhaps, “We are squirrel worshippers. We only park facing to the south when we make our religious pilgrimages to offer nuts to the Squirrel Gods in local parks.”

That’s what I wanted to say, but I realized that those two answers were both sarcastic and patronizing.

So I answered truthfully, "I've never parked here before. I did not know I couldn't park here. There are no yellow lines and no signs, so I assumed this side was okay." 

I kept trying to strap my son in so we could leave.
"Ignorance is no excuse," she says.

Perhaps, in many instances, ignorance is not an excuse.  But in this case, I thought it was a pretty good one. 

How can a person try NOT to do something wrong if they're not aware that it is wrong?

Instead of trying to argue this point, I got a bit irritated and said, "Okay, I'm getting out of this spot and leaving now."

"I could be writing you a ticket."

"Yes, you could be. And I appreciate that you are not. You have let me know that this is an illegal parking space and that I ought not to be there. I am trying to make that happen.”

I zipped away as fast as the speed limit would let me.

"Is there a reason you parked on the wrong side of the street?"
This question put me on the defensive and did not really teach me anything about where to park. In fact, it caused an exchange that ended with two irritated adults, rather than one who was better informed and one who was pleased.

Don’t use rhetorical questions when you want to impart knowledge to someone!
As I replayed that incident in my mind, I realized how often I make the same mistake as a parent. I use rhetorical questions!

I don’t say, "Please stop getting on the kitchen counter to get to the chocolate candy on top of the refrigerator. It’s dangerous.”

Instead, I find myself saying, "What are you doing up there?"

I don't want my child to tell me why he is there. (I figured that out by the chocolate on his face and wrappers on the floor.) I want him to get down! 

I'm almost certain that the city worker probably intended to teach me something about parking safety in some misguided manner with her question.
In a perfect world, all of our directions would be in simple terms. We wouldn't have a No Parking Here sign; we'd have a Park Here! sign. Everything would be presented in a straightforward, no need-to-guess manner. 

But life is not always that simple. As a parent, I try to teach right from wrong; distinguish safe from unsafe; illustrate appropriate and inappropriate. 

Using clear language, firmly setting expectations, and explaining errors is helpful to children trying to find their way. And it can help adults, too. 

I hope I don't soon find myself parked somewhere I should not be. But if I do, I hope I hear, "This side of the street is designated as no parking for safety reasons. Next time you park in this neighborhood, please park over there." 

I'll happily put down my chocolate and get off the counter.

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(Image by greefus groinks, CC 2.0)