BATAVIA – A self-described speaker provocateur, Roger Breisch of Batavia just released his first book, built on the premise that posing questions is more powerful than providing answers.
“What I’ve always really loved doing is short essays [on my blog] … that capture some thought or event or experience I’ve had,” said Breisch, a noted motivational speaker who travels across the country. “I chose for this book 35 of them [that] raise some pretty profound questions – ‘Questions That Matter.’”
It’s the title of the debut book by Breisch, who has a mathematics degree from Northern Illinois University and a master’s in business from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The former director of the Batavia Chamber of Commerce said he discovered it was the business of life that fascinated him, and on his website, he shares a rich collection of book recommendations. It was only after the birth of his daughter about 26 years ago that he began taking the hour after she went to bed to pick up a book instead of watching television, he told Kane County Chronicle reporter Renee Tomell. The following is an edited version of their conversation.
Renee Tomell: Where did your reading take you?
Roger Breisch: I just discovered my love of diverse … topics. It shows up in the book … spiritual traditions … science … psychology … because I discovered I love learning a variety of things related to human wisdom. [Much of] what [we’re] thinking today is at best limited, at worst blatantly wrong. This book is an attempt through these essays to ask questions along a broad spectrum – from the nature of knowledge and wisdom, questions of self, other and the future of the human species. It cuts a wide swath. … Could we see [life] a different way from the very beginning?
Tomell: Your belief in the value of questions is drawn, in part, from years of volunteering on suicide hotlines?
Breisch: I learned [on] suicide hotlines [that] answers close down the possibilities of a new future. It’s about provoking new thinking. Questions do that better than answers. Certainly on the suicide hotline, if you call me and tell me about difficulties in your life, for me to give you an answer [means] I’m not listening. I’m telling you.
Tomell: What are some of the questions you pose at schools in your talks about youth suicide?
Breisch: The question that I always ask high school teens is how can you be certain that your self-image is correct? [That’s] not just true for teens. Most of the time, our self-image is different from the way other people see us. [Ours] are the ones that usually come up short. … self-images tainted by painful embarrassing mistakes that other people are willing to let go of and [we] can’t.
Tomell: What suicide hotline do you serve and what have you learned?
Breisch: The one in Batavia [Suicide Prevention Services.] In that call center, we answer a [regional] one and we answer the national lifeline [at] 800-273-8255 – one that anyone can call any time. I’ve been there for more than 14 years and more than 3,000 hours. [It’s] for anyone suffering in any way or form. [Volunteering there] is such a life-affirming thing to do. It’s often scary, sometimes it’s upsetting. In … probably 9,000 phone calls, I have talked to so many people who have been in such dire straits. And, mostly, they just need to be heard. They don’t need to be fixed.
Tomell: What are some of the questions you ask the callers?
Breisch: [I] ask them some provocative questions that cause them to see their life in a slightly different way. I’ll ask, ‘Have you learned something about the human journey through this pain?’ ‘Has it made you more capable of compassion, of love?’ [People] want life to be painless [for themselves and their children]. But at some deep level, we know that’s not where learning takes place. … One of the greatest paradoxes is that the deepest wisdom we know comes from that edge between order and chaos, where often [there’s] pain, suffering and confusion. Creativity in all of nature – not just human – erupts on that edge between order and chaos.
Tomell: Your Generations Project is trying to bridge a gap?
Breisch: It was always said that children learn to live from their parents, but learn wisdom from their grandparents. So often now, [youths] don’t have grandparents [close enough] to get to know them. The Generations Project is an attempt to find groups of elders, wisdom keepers, who can engage in dialogue with young people, some of whom are struggling in their lives, and have a conversation about the human journey. I have no doubt the elders will be touched by the stories of the youth, and they will be equally touched by the stories of the elders – affirming that it is often a difficult journey, but on the other side is wisdom and beauty that was unimaginable before the pain and heartache.
If you go
WHAT: Book signings for “Questions That Matter” by Roger Breisch
WHEN: 4 to 5:30 p.m. Sept. 7 and 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 28
WHERE: 25N Coworking, 25 N. River Lane, Geneva, and K. Hollis Jewelers, 147 S. Randall Road, Batavia, respectively
COST: $20 per book
DISCUSSION GROUP: The long-running Socrates Cafe, led by Roger Breisch, meets at 6:30 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of the month at Barnes & Noble at the Geneva Commons, 102 Commons Drive, Geneva.