This is what people tell Agent J (Will Smith) in Men in Black III every time he asks Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), “How did you get this way?”
The whole movie turns on this question.
Boris the Animal, a boglodite (a species of parasite-like aliens), escapes from the LunarMax prison on the moon, and travels back in time to kill a young Agent K before K blows off Boris’s arm in 1969. Boris succeeds and puts the earth in grave danger of being invaded by the boglodites. Agent J has to go back in time to save K and the earth.
When we got in the car after the movie, my husband gave me a pointed look. “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to. Sounds like a lesson someone I know should learn.”
“In what way?”
Deadpan, in a perfect Admiral Ackbar imitation, he said, “It’s a trap!”
And I laughed, not just because we’re Star Wars nerds, but because, in a way, my husband was right. Women are particularly fond of asking questions we don’t need or want the answer to.
Do these jeans make my butt look big?
Do you think she’s prettier than me?
What do you think of my hair?
We force people to lie to us, or get angry with them when they don’t.
Not every question should be asked. Not every question should be answered. Some questions only torment us and the person we ask.
But sometimes, even if we don’t want the answer, we may need it.
Through the Men in Black series, Agent J believes his father chose to be absent while he was growing up. He carried around a lot of resentment and pain. Because he refuses to stop asking and refuses to accept anything less than an answer, he finds out the truth. His father was a hero who died helping Agent K save the world from Boris the Animal.
And what was it that made K the way he is? Seeing the young James (Agent J) hop out of the nearby Jeep only moments after his father is killed and ask about his dad. K flashed him with his memory eraser so that he wouldn’t remember being there.
Knowing that answer helped J both personally in accepting that his father didn’t willingly abandon him, and professionally in understanding and appreciating his partner more. The answer hurt him, but it also helped him.
The same can be true for us, but the tricky part is learning the difference between a question we don’t want to know the answer to yet need to, and a question we ask out of our own insecurity or immaturity.
Did you cheat on me?
Are you still drinking?
Is my novel ready to publish?
Do I need to lose weight?
The answers to those types of questions might hurt. We might not really want to know. But knowing the answer is for the best.
How do you figure out whether a question you don’t really want to know the answer to is one you need to ask anyway?