Loaded Questions

“Did you set off into freedom or set off into power?” the invisible interviewer asks. If you’ve watched until this far, you’ll already know the answer. In fact, anyone who even knows the interviewee’s name can likely guess the answer.

Originally born in Hamburg, Angela Merkel spent the first 36 years of her life in the DDR, the “German Democratic Republic.” Unfortunately, the country formed with significant Soviet influence was anything but. What masqueraded as a democracy was actually a totalitarian, communist state.

“It was like in the book by Orwell, 1984, more or less,” Merkel says in another segment of the documentary. “Not [quite so] perfect as it is written there, but nearly as perfect.” Everyone was aware, Merkel says, that wherever 20 or so people met, at least 1-2 of them belonged to the Stasi, the “State Security.” Privacy didn’t exist, and whoever bucked the state too obviously might soon have found themselves demoted — or perhaps would no longer be found at all.

When the wall fell and Germany was reunited, Merkel, like millions of people, was simply thrilled to no longer have to constantly lie, to buy winter shoes when she wanted them instead of waiting for them to become available, and to go to a club where the music was chosen, not dictated.

But you don’t need to know any of this to see that the journalist asked a loaded question. The mere sound of it. Imagine asking a friend the same thing. Loaded questions have a tendency to only ever apply to a fraction of the population, if anyone.

For 99% of people, the answer would be the same Merkel gives in the interview: “I set off into freedom, of course. No question about it.” Ha! She even says it. “No question about it.” At least not for anyone who spent five minutes preparing to interview Angela Merkel, one would hope. That’s the part we skip when we converse with goals instead of open ears.

Did you imagine being the person sitting across the table, if only for a minute? Doing so would cure almost anyone from asking loaded questions. They’d squirm in their seat and revert to a more thoughtful line of questions. But imagination can only be volunteered, and when you’re paid to elicit headlines rather than answers, it’s easier to not raise your hand. To continue with the usually scheduled programming. To keep asking pointless, loaded questions — such as “Did you set off into freedom or set off into power?”

You might not be a journalist, but it still pays to think about who you’re talking to. To put yourself in their shoes and listen more so than poke. Who knows? Maybe one day, you’ll sit face to face with someone important. Or inspiring. Or both. And if ever that day comes, you’ll want to ask good questions.