A bit of a depressing thought (which is why I didn’t publish it before Pesach). I should develop further, but this is not the time of year for cynicism...
The Talmud Yerushalmi (Pesachim 10:4) lists four types of children for whom we are instructed והגדת לבנך, “Tell your children” about the Exodus. One is חכם – wise. One is רשע – wicked. One is טיפש – foolish (in contemporary haggadot, the edition often says תם, simple, but the meaning is the same). And one is שאינו יודע לשאול – the one who does not know how to ask. These are the four children of our Seder.
Maharal, like many others, explains that the one who "does not know how to ask" is of weak intellect. This is difficult, though; is the אינו יודע לשאול like the תם-טיפש, just less bright?
Rav Nachman of Breslov (Likutei Moharan 30:6) explained this child differently – he “does not know how to repent and ask for forgiveness from G-d for sins of which he is unaware.”
Taking Rav Nachman’s idea further: The “one who does not know how to ask” is indeed bright. He can make deductions and declare assertions and debate brilliantly - but he does not know how to ask questions, with a genuine interest in learning that which he does not already know.
We are riding the wave of a communication revolution, in which all of us can publish. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and any number of photo-sharing apps offer platforms for us to proclaim our beliefs. But these media offer very little in the way of two-way communication. (And writing, “Let me know in the comments” when you really mean, “Compliment me, or tell me why you disagree so that I will be able to rebut your arguments,” doesn’t count.)
And we live in a world which interprets humility as uncertainty, and a gentle demeanour as timidity, encouraging us always to express ourselves, and to do so with force. Just look at our presidential candidates.
The result is a style which emphasizes zingers, supporting data, boasting, questions solely for the purpose of rhetorical device, and QED. There is very little inquiry for the sincere purpose of learning another point of view. We have become a generation that does not know how to ask.
Perhaps we need people to set our teeth on edge…