Socrates was an interesting character. He had a thick, meaty face and soupy guttural voice, like a peasant, but today, he is considered to be the father of western philosophy.

In the ancient Greek capital of Athens, Socrates was considered to be a fountain of all knowledge, to which men came from far and wide to learn. They would sit at his feet and he would ask those questions all day.

“Why do you think so?”

“What is the cause?”

“What would you have done?”

Through their attempts to seek answers, the students eventually learnt far more than they imagined possible.

Socrates recognised the power of the question and its ability to unlock the solutions to all of life’s problems. It is this simple lesson that I want to share with you today.

A question is a request for knowledge. The solutions we seek to all our problems will all be provided if we learn to ask the right questions.

In Ghana, we are not raised to ask questions. We are taught to accept whatever our elders or our betters tell us, “without question”. They tell us to “obey before complain”. They say a curious child is an insolent child, and so they teach us not to talk back. This still happens, by the way, because you and I are the parents of today, and this is how we were taught by our own parents.

As a society, we are literally teaching our children NOT to seek knowledge. In this age, where the rest of the world is competing for supremacy through the acquisition and sharing of information, we are depriving our future generations of the one tool that will make them competitive – the culture of curiosity.

It was curiosity that got man onto the moon. It was curiosity that brought us electricity. Curiosity led to the discovery and invention of aircraft, antibiotics, gravity, the telephone, the automobile, the internet, and all the other amazing things that have changed the world, and evolved the way in which things are done.

While all this has been going on, we in this part of the world have been teaching our children not to speak unless they are spoken to. Well, here’s a question: why? Because it’s rude?

Even as adults, we subject each other to the same handicaps. When I ask tough questions of our leaders, I’m told by some that I “don’t respect”. We are ok with their incompetence, inefficiency and insensitivity to our plight. None of that is disrespectful to us, but how dare we demand accountability from them? How dare we question them?

Socrates, one of the smartest men who ever lived, said, “As for me, all I know is that I know nothing”. 

Socrates knew nothing, and he was aware of this, which is why he asked questions. We know less than nothing, but we are not aware that we’re clueless, because we don’t ask questions. Every wrong turn our country has made in its short history can be blamed on a failure to ask the right questions. Like…

What kind of soldier takes aim and shoots unarmed civilians in the back? What do we really expect this committee to achieve? What went into the choice of members? How much authority can a committee set up by the interior ministry exercise over soldiers – who come under the defence ministry? What could possibly possess soldiers of the same military to run rampage in Wa, slapping and kicking everyone they see, all because of a missing phone? Who is in charge of those soldiers? 

Who is in charge of this country? Do we have leadership? Is there a Commander-in-chief in Ghana? Is he really in charge, or is he impotent? Is there anything at all he can do to prevent soldiers from dragging you out of your home, your office, your car, and beating you up in front of your friends and family? Are you safe? Are your children safe? 

These are important questions, and we must come together as a nation and demand answers to them. The alternative is to stay silent, stay ignorant, and allow a few greedy leaders to put their private interest ahead of the public good. 

My friends, most of us are either parents, or potential parents. Either way, for us, it’s probably too late to change, but please, let’s not infect our children with our fatal knowledge allergy.

Let’s give them a fighting chance to compete in the future world. Let’s allow them to develop a healthy curiosity and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. That is real power, and the only weapon our people have against tyranny and oppression.  It’s their only weapon, and they’re going to need it.

My name is Kojo Yankson, and what killed the cat can cure a country.