Questions for Conviviality


How can we create a culture of questioning on campus?

What questions can you ask, to move from acquaintance into real friendship?

What questions are worth savoring – pondering – considering – without being in a hurry for answers?

What questions take us deeper into our own hearts, and into the hearts of others?  How can we listen mindfully to the answers?

Below are lists of questions for you to ask people you want to know better.  Ask them at “virtual campfires” .  Post them on sticky notes on your residence hall walls, send them to friends, and raise and discuss them in groups and clubs and classes.

These questions can enrich your relationship with yourself and with other people.  But that enrichment is possible only when we are able to listen to answers with open minds and hearts.  Ask with mindfulness:  with curiosity and openness, withholding judgments or preconceptions.  Make room in your soul for surprising answers.  Ask with a desire to learn, grow, know, and love.  Don’t interrupt with comments or opinions – let the person fully answer the question, and let them know you are paying full attention.  Listening is what happens when we let the words of others sink in deep enough to take root.  Like soil must be broken and tilled to be ready for seeds, our souls must be broken open in order to make way for what others need to tell us.  This takes time!  So after you get an answer to your question, pause for a while to meditate on it before asking more questions or making any comments.  Often, when the answer to a question reveals some kind of suffering or difficulty, we’re tempted to respond right away with advice, or by telling stories from our own lives that are similar.  But this just deflects attention away from the person to whom we were listening, putting ourselves at the center of the conversation.  Often we do this in order to relieve our own discomfort with what we’ve just heard.  But if we’re truly listening, we’ll make room for that discomfort – paying mindful attention to it, without trying to end it or fix it.  More than anything else, our friends just need us to be present, listening silently with hearts open to what they have to say.  (For more, listen to this wonderful NPR radio show: The Act of Listening.  Also check out this article on the art of asking good questions.) 

This list is a work in progress!  Add your questions by submitting them to Rev. Jim Burklo, Senior Associate Dean of Religious Life.

More on enhancing friendship and conviviality at USC at Campfires @ USC


CAMPFIRE STARTER QUESTIONS:  Get a group together in a circle.  Put laptops and phones in the center, all playing this campfire video (no need to synch – the sights and sounds blends together).  Start asking these questions.  People in the circle should not be pushed to answer any question:  they can say “Let me stare at the campfire for a while and ponder that question”, and the next person can take a turn in answering if she/he chooses:

  1.  What do you wish you had known, when you were younger?
  2.  What do you really want to know now?
  3.  What are you most grateful for?
  4.  What “unknown” or question is most interesting to you, in your field of work or study – and why?
  5.  When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?
  6.  What does friendship mean to you?
  7.  What is surprising or weird about you?
  8.  What keeps you up at night?
  9.  What are you afraid of?
  10.  How is your soul right now?


Harvard Business Review – Networking Questions:

What excites you right now?
What are you looking forward to?
What’s the best thing that happened to you this year?
Where did you grow up?
What do you do for fun?
Who is your favorite superhero/fictional figure?
If you could pick one charitable cause to support, which one would it be?
What’s the most important thing I should know about you?



1.  What question or event helped you and an acquaintance become real friends?

2.  What are the levels of friendship for you – social media friends, your “network”, close friends, etc?  What are the differences between these kinds of friends?

3.  How many of your friendships or relationships on campus seem “transactional”?  (ie: based on how one person can gain or benefit in some way from a connection with another)  How do “transactional” relationships feel to you?

4.  How many true friends can you have, really? and what is the reason for that number?

5.  Of your friends, pick one:  how has that friend changed and shaped your life?

6.  What would make it easier to make and keep real friends?

7.  How can campus clubs, groups, residences, etc, be structured to increase the likelihood that students will form meaningful relationships with each other?

8.  How do you know when somebody is really listening to you?

9.  Have you ever felt betrayed by a friend, and if so, what was that like for you?

10.  Are you grieving the loss of any friendship or other relationship right now?

QUESTIONS for conversation about interpersonal relationships on campus – posed by USC student group, Novus Think Tank:

  1.  What brought you to USC? What have you liked so far? What would you change?
  2.  What matters to you and why?
  3. What are you most grateful for?
  4. What could you talk about all day long?
  5. Of your friends, pick one: how has that friend changed and shaped your life?
  6. How would you describe yourself in a word? A sentence?
  7. What makes you, you?
  8. Where did you grow up? What was it like?
  9. What are key parts of our identities, and how do they influence our relationships?
  10. What were our friendships and communities like growing up? What about our families?
  11. What role do relationships play in our stories? What are our most meaningful relationships?
  12. How do you usually spend your alone time?
  13. Do you prefer to be alone or with others? Why?
  14. How do you know when somebody is really listening to you?
  15. How would you describe loneliness? Is it something you struggle with? What do you do to make yourself feel less alone?
  16. Does technology make you feel more or less alone?
  17. Why do you think loneliness has become an increasingly large issue, especially among college students?
  18. Do you feel like you belong/would fit in in a different decade?
  19. What communities, if any, are you a part of at USC?
  20. Describe a time where you felt out of place, and what it was like.
  21. What would make it easier to make and keep real friends on campus?
  22. Is fitting in easier for some people than others?
  23. Does fitting in mean giving a piece of yourself up?
  24. Where and/or with whom do you feel like you belong? Why?
  25. How do you perceive yourself? How is it different from how others perceive you?
  26. Describe a close friend of yours–what do you especially appreciate about them?
  27. USC has many “types”, i.e. jocks, frat stars, engineering students, musicians, etc. Do you have a “type”? How does it change how others perceive you?
  28. How does our perception of ourselves change our behavior, for better or worse?
  29. Do you feel like a different person depending on who you are with?
  30. How do you think about/approach friendship?
  31. Do you search for friends or wait to be befriended?
  32. When you feel lonely or out of place, how do you calm yourself?
  33. Is fitting in a product of our mindset?
  34. What stories (about ourselves and others) inform our mindset? Could changing the way we frame those stories change the way we view our relationships?
  35. Do you view fitting in as a challenge to overcome or as a threat to your social status?
  36. What’s something you have a hard time talking about with others?
  37. What’s a mistake you’ve made that negatively impacted a relationship of yours? What did you do about it?
  38. Have you ever felt betrayed by a friend, and if so, what was that like for you?
  39. When it comes to fitting in and building relationships, how honest do we need to be with ourselves and others?
  40. What are we not saying because it’s easier not to say?
  41. Are you ever afraid of being your genuine self with others? If so, why?
  42. What is the difference between loneliness and solitude?

36 Questions on the Way to Love – New York Times

  1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest, and why?
  2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
  3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
  4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
  5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
  6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
  7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
  8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
  9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
  10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
  11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
  12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
  13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
  14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
  15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
  16. What do you value most in a friendship?
  17. What is your most treasured memory?
  18. What is your most terrible memory?
  19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
  20. What does friendship mean to you?
  21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
  22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
  23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
  24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
  25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … “
  26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “
  27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
  28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
  29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
  30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
  31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
  32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
  33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
  34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
  35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
  36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

The Six Types of Socratic Questions:  a helpful resource.

MORE questions – each list has more “personal” questions than the next:

STARTER QUESTIONS:  not too personal – good for getting a conversation warmed-up:

What is your favorite video/TV show?

If you could choose anyone living or dead, who would you choose to lead our country?

What is something that you think people are only pretending to like or are deluding themselves into liking?

Who is your favorite actor or actress?  What quality about them is most impressive?

What sentence can you say that makes total sense now but would seem insane 20 years ago?

What piece of culture or trend has died out, but you would like to see it make a comeback?

What’s something from your childhood that used to be common but now is pretty rare?

What kinds of things are normal now but will be highly valued antiques a century later?

What’s something horrible that we as humans have accepted, because that’s just how things are; but actually things don’t have to be that way at all?

What was something you ate regularly as a child but now cringe at the thought of eating?

What would be the worst thing to put into a piñata?

What was a huge deal when it happened but now everyone seems to have forgotten about it?

What is beauty?

What nouns cannot, or ought not, be the subjects of declaratory sentences?

What matters most: freedom to, or freedom from?

Are we all in it together?  or are we in it separately?

If you could put your brain in a robot and live indefinitely, would you?

If you could replace the handshake as a greeting, what interesting new greeting would you replace it with?

Are you an animal?

What website or app has completely changed your life for better or for worse?

What type of design style do you like most? From architecture, interior design, art, cars, phones or whatever.  How does this style affect you?

Assuming you name inanimate objects, what are some names for inanimate objects you own or have owned? (i.e. cars, computers, shoes, etc.)

What would make the world more interesting if it was a different color?

What makes someone a “good” person?

Do you think that humans as a species have gotten better through the generations or worse? Why?

What is the most important thing a person can do to improve themselves?

Do you think the future will be better than the present? Why?

What’s the most crucial thing for a healthy relationship?

What’s the most extreme example of poverty you have seen, and what do you think can be done about it?

Is it better to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?


NEXT-STEP QUESTIONS:  getting more personal:

What random stranger has had the biggest impact on your life?

What are you missing that would enable you to know what you are missing?

What achievement are you proud of, but most people would consider silly or weird?

What is something you think you will regret in the future not starting now and what is something you already regret not starting sooner?

What could you talk about all day long?

What is the difference between loneliness and solitude?

What part of your culture are you most and least proud of?

What’s the worst and best thing for you about your gender?

Where do you find more truth:  in the front page of a newspaper, or in myth/poetry?

Who’s the worst guest you’ve had in your house and what did they do?

When does time pass fastest for you and when does it pass the slowest?

What pictures or paintings have had a big impact on you – how, why?

What movie or book character are you most similar to?

You can broadcast one sentence to every podcast, TV channel, and radio in the world and have it translated to each country’s language. What sentence do you say?

What’s the most immature thing your parents do?

Have you ever had to raise your parents?  Why/how?

What are you most passionate about and what do you wish you were more passionate about?

Who haven’t you seen or talked to in a long time and hope they are doing okay?

Where is the last place you would ever go?

Who is the humblest person you know?

What question do you wish people would stop asking you?

What is your favorite video/TV show?

What’s the most ridiculous argument you’ve had?

What’s the biggest lesson life has taught you?

What’s the weirdest tradition your family has?

What joke went way too far?

What is your very first memory?

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve said or done around someone you had a crush on?

What doesn’t exist but you desperately want / need it?

If you could hear every time someone said something good about you or something negative about you, which would you choose?

Before making a call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

What sentence can you say that makes total sense now but would seem insane 20 years ago?

How decisive or indecisive are you?

If you were given $5,000 to give the most amount of happiness to the most amount of people, what would you do?

What kinds of things are normal now but will be highly valued antiques a century later?

If you were an action figure, what accessories would you be sold with?

What was something you ate regularly as a child but now cringe at the thought of eating?

What’s something you learned recently that you really should have already known?

Which would you choose:  100 new social media friends, or just one new true friend?

What’s the best piece of advice someone has given you?

When do you need advice, and when do you wish people would not give you advice?

Looking back on your life, what have you done that has given you the most satisfaction?

What do you wish you had more time for?

When was the last time you had a gut feeling about something that turned out to be correct? How about a time your gut feeling was wrong?

What’s your “and then it got worse” story?

What’s the biggest lie that someone told you?

If you could dedicate your life to solving one problem, what problem would you choose?

What’s your favorite way to meet new people?

What makes you feel old?

What’s your favorite non-drug / non-alcohol high?

What have you gotten too old to put up with?

What’s the most ridiculous thing you have convinced someone is true?

What event would you like to know the whole and complete truth about?

What always lets you down and what never lets you down?

If you could know one truth about yourself, history, the world, or even the universe, what truth would you want to know?

What question have you always wanted to ask, but were too afraid of looking stupid?

What would your warning label say if every person was required to have one?

What’s the best decision you’ve ever made?

What’s the most embarrassing thing that has fallen out of your bag?

What’s something that only someone from where you grew up would understand?

What kind of old person would you like to become?



Of your beliefs, which are most worth questioning?

What is the basis or source of your ethics and morality?

What question do you wish people would stop asking you?

What is your greatest regret? – your greatest success?

What is the riskiest thing you have ever done?

What intolerable behavior from others are you tolerating?

Are you living your values?

What do you deserve?

Have you ever experienced eternity?

What are you completely over and done with?

For you, what is the purpose of life?

What memory do you just keep going back to?

What do you wish you could re-live?

What was the worst phase you went through?

Are you lonely?

Whom do you make happy?

What loss do you still grieve?

What’s an innocent mistake you made that had dramatic consequences?

What’s in your pockets right now?

What do you think people automatically assume about you when they look at you?

Who is or was your greatest rival?

What was your most memorable dream or nightmare?  What did it tell you about your life?

What’s something you completely changed your mind about and went from believing one thing to believing the exact opposite?

What weird childhood fear do you still hold on to?

What would the trailer to a movie about your life be like?

If you could custom design an organ for yourself, what would it do and where would it go?

What or who would you sacrifice your life for?

What is the most important thing a person can do to improve themselves?

What single event has had the biggest impact on who you are?