What happened when Stan Hampson asked a better question

Stan Hampson
Photo courtesy Palo Alto Historical Association

Forty years ago at the Unity convention — June 1978 — everyone was asking Ruth Mosley what she thought about the Ebony Magazine story that had been published in February (exactly 40 years ago as this article is being written). It was a painful telling of Johnnie Colemon's experience at Unity and why she left. Ruth Mosley dodged the questions because they didn't convey to Ruth a sincere desire to overcome prejudice in Unity. Ruth sensed that they were asked only to patch things over.

Stan Hampson asked a better question.

Apparently Stan had been processing how the way we pose questions has power to either open up or shut down honest conversation. I know that because one year later he gave a powerful talk about that very subject — entitled “Ask a Better Question” — at a summer gathering in Kansas City. Two minutes into his talk, Stan says,

What shapes our lives and determines our experience is really the kind of question we ask. Your life is shaped, daily, momently by your questions. An answer is like a closing door, an ending, a finishing, a conclusion. But a question is always a new beginning.

Back to the summer of 1978. Stan wasn't focused on a question that seeks to patch things over. Rather, he sought a question that launched a new beginning. By doing so he healed wounds and changed the course of Unity history.

As Ruth Mosley shared with Vertell Allison-Talfero, Stan approached Ruth with this question,

What can we do to help your people?

That was a good question. Stan's question was open, honest and receptive to what ever might come. His question unleashed something in Ruth Mosley. It gave her hope. She felt for the first time that someone in Unity was listening.

Soon, Stan Hampson went to Detroit to meet with Ruth and David Williamson, then senior minister at Detroit Unity Temple. A plan was made to create a school, which would train ministers who would not otherwise have the opportunity to take the Unity message of hope and faith to urban communities everywhere. One year later, at the 1979 Conference, Bernard Dozier presented Ruth's proposal. Stan Hampson seconded it. The Unity Urban Ministerial School was born.

I hope you will purchase Vertell's book and read the full story. But what is more important is understanding the power of an honest conversation and the capacity it has to heal.

So I'm writing to encourage everyone to listen to Stan Hampson's talk Ask a Better Question. You can listen to Stan's insightful talk by clicking here. I've ordered a transcript and with a little luck it will be uploaded by the end of today.

I know there is a sincere desire in Unity to continue to have courageous conversations about inclusiveness, race and marginalization in all its forms. I recently heard UWM leadership express a desire to develop tools for having these important conversations. Well, we have a tool from which each of us can learn to ask a better question.

Stan Hampson's question led to a series of events that showed Unity at it's best. The tape, the transcript and a little bit about the man who gave the talk is here. Won't you carve out one hour and six minutes to learn how to have a courageous conversation?