Excerpted with the permission of the authors from Chapter 30 Power Questions:
(Note from Bob: Jewish Passover this year begins tonight at sunset)
My good friend, Robie Wayneberg, invites me to dinner. A very special dinner.
He asks me to join him and his family in celebrating their Seder. It is the highly festive Passover dinner that commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. Passover is the most commonly observed and best known of the Jewish holidays.
It enjoys a rich, spiritual kinship to the Christian faith. It is believed that Jesus and His disciples gathered for the Seder on the last evening they were together. It’s what we now call the Last Supper.
Robie’s family gathers around the dining table. They give me a yarmulke to wear. I become a member of the family.
It is a deeply moving evening. The ritual begins. Three matzohs, the unleavened bread. The bitter herbs. The egg. The salted water. Then the roasted lamb and wine.
And then, one of the most soul-provoking questions I have ever heard. Become me for a moment. Get a front row seat at this scene. Think of the evening. The family. The ritual. The story of the flight from Egypt. And now the question.
“Why is this night different from all other nights?”
In some ways, it is actually close to the kind of question I’ve been asking for years. When my young kids were tucked into bed each evening, I would ask:
“What made this day more special than any other day in your life? What were all the wonderful things that happened to you today?”
These questions made everything fade away that might have happened during the day that was negative. The snubbing, falling in the playground, the tough multiplication exercises, not being picked for a team, being caught chewing gum. All this would be forgotten.
Instead, the kids would recall a special moment. Answering correctly when their teacher called on them. Getting an extra ten minutes at recess. Spending time with their best friend after school.
It’s a great question:
What made this day more special than any other?
My young kids are now grown with families of their own. They ask their children the same question.
I often still ask that very question when I’m talking with someone individually or in a group. Sometimes, I hear about a promotion at work, or a success with a customer. Often, someone relates a very small thing that brought great joy. It may have been a smiling child, an incandescent sunset, or an intimate conversation with their spouse.
It’s magical. It’s not unlike the stars of the sky whose beauty increases when they are studied for a long time, and new stars are discovered.
The question momentarily stops a person. It is, as Robert Frost writes, “at the threshold of discovery.” The wheels begin turning. And then come the joy and a smile.
Try it. Ask the question at your dinner table. If you’re lucky enough to have young kids still at home, ask it when you’re tucking them into bed. Ask it of some of your friends. You will find sparkling moments of high happiness and rapture when the soul is laid bare.
If the description of a power question is one that is thought- stretching and calls for a response, this is indeed a question packedwith punch and vigor. Mystical magic.
Dylan Thomas writes of being touched by life and etched in fire. That’s it! That’s it exactly. “What made this day more special than any other?”
Invite others to share their most treasured moments with you. Help them relish and savor their days by asking, “What made this day more special than any other?”
Suggestions for How to Use This Question
“What made this day more special than any other?”
This is an extraordinary question to ask over dinner, when entertaining friends at a cocktail hour, or with the family at the close of the day. The responses are almost always positive. People stretch to think of all the good things that have transpired. What makes this reaction special is that when joy overflows their cup, it tends to spill over onto everyone else.
Should the day’s tidings be negative— and this doesn’t happen often— just be aware that there are no rainbows without a cloud or a storm. Tomorrow will be a better day.In either case, the question leads to revealing discourse.
When to use the question:
- At the end of any day, when you are talking to just about anyone!
- When someone has come back from a trip, adventure, or outing.
Alternative versions of the question
- “Would you tell me about your day?”
- “What happened today that made you smile? Did anything make you frown?”
Follow- up questions
“Why was that particularly special for you?”
Authors of Power Questions: Jerold Panas & Andrew Sobel – Jerold Panas is the world’s leading consultant in philanthropy and the CEO of Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners, the largest consulting firm in the world for advising nonprofit organizations on fundraising. He can be reached at Jerold Panas. Andrew Sobel is the leading authority on building long-term client and other professional relationships. He can be reached at Andrew Sobel