It’s one of the most powerful and important words in the English language. Why? The ultimate one word question.
Why ask why?
From an early age, “Why?” is a natural question, showing how curiosity is innate in all humans. Why are you doing that Mummy? Why are you putting that there? Why is the sky blue? Why do lions roar? Why can’t I have chocolate for breakfast? Why do I have to go to bed? But Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyy….?
Then at some point we seem to get ‘full’ and stop asking why. We just accept what is put in front of us.
I remember in history lessons being taught to evaluate sources of information. To ask Why? How? Who? When? Where?
Who wrote it (who paid for it to be written), when did they write it, how was it produced and presented, where was it written – but most importantly WHY? What are they trying to convince you of and what will they get out of it?
There is so much nonesense pedalled in the news and we seem to have reached a stage in society where not enough of us people ask these questions anymore. We just believe what fits with out preexisting views because it makes us feel righteous. We are all guilty of it but it is deeply depressing.
It takes a lot of energy to ask Why. Changing your views on something or digging in and learning about something new is disruptive and uncomfortable. But my goodness it is important.
Imagine spending your life thinking the world is flat. Then you start to question that because no one ever fell off the edge. Suddenly you realise you’re wrong – it was round all along. Think about all the other associated beliefs you took for granted and which you now have to reassess.
It’s the same with so many issues and relationships.
Why was he late home? Why did he smell of perfume? Why wasn’t he answering his phone? I know women who ignore the signs (I was one of them once) because openly asking will let the genie out of the bottle… and there is no return from that point. So let’s just put our fingers in our ears, head in the sand and go lalalalalalalalalala….
You can’t just go back to believing the world is flat.
Asking why can be like opening a can of worms. I think that may be a reason we avoid it in so many circumstances. It’s understandable, but pretty lame when you think about it.
Instead, I am trying to embrace the premise that there is always value to be found in cans of worms! There are wheels being invented, cures for cancer, art, renewable energy sources, innovation, personal growth and… well the future really…
This is why curiosity matters.
I have a tattoo which reads “Nillius in Verba” which is Latin and essentially translates as “don’t believe a word of it”. It’s a reminder not to take things as given. Keep going back to your who? where? what? when? why? questions! Even if you are worried the answers might make you uncomfortable.
Uncomfortable is where the good shit happens!
Does Why always matter?
Why did he dump me? Why isn’t she my friend anymore? Why do I feel this way? Why aren’t I better at sport? Why does this always happen to me? Why is it so unfair?
I’m turning things on their head now. Because sometimes asking why is like banging your head against a wall.
There are some whys which you may never get an answer to and getting hung up on one question is like getting stuck in a cul de sac when there is a whole city waiting to be explored.
Let me give you an example.
I used to work in a big office and there was a group of us who were great friends. Until one of the girls kind of took issue with me. Her behaviour towards me changed, she was snide, aggressive, patronising, spiteful and generally tried to bully and isolate me from the rest of the group.
For so long I wondered what I had done to offend her, why had she turned on me? Why was she so mean? Why didn’t she want to be my friend anymore? Why Why Why? I had some ideas it was down to jealousy but really could just speculate. As someone who needs to understand people and their motivations, it was so unsatisfying. Until one day, or over the course of time, I realised it actually didn’t matter why.
Knowing why wouldn’t change her behaviour. Continuing to ruminate on it (Could I have done something different? Should I confront her?) was only making me miserable.
If I just let go of needing to know why then I would free myself of that anguish. And slowly I did.
Over time, I saw her do the same thing to other people and realised it was all about her and had very little to do with me. She was a mean and ultimately deeply troubled person who treated people like crap. So the question shifted from “Why doesn’t she like me?” to “Why do I want her to?”.
I’ve talked before about the bouts of anxiety I have suffered from on and off all my life. I have seen various counsellors over time too who fall into 2 categories.
There are the psychoanalyst types who want to get to the root of the anxiety. Why does X make you feel Y? Why do you have these associations, Why does that make you nervous?
Then there are the pragmatists who are more about management. This is more a case of – it doesn’t matter where it came from, how can we manage it?
I definitely think there is room for both these avenues, but mandating one or the other is restrictive. Do what works!
I tend to swing from one to the other. Getting frustrated at myself, demanding to know why I have irrational anxious thoughts, needing to find this traumatic event that must have triggered it. Then self analysis gets to the point where it just feels indulgent and unhelpful. Who cares if I once got shouted at for something when I was 7 and it put a spike in my subconscious… I just need to find a way to make myself get on the bloody aeroplane!
Hard shit happens in life. All the time. Sometimes knowing why can help to stop if happening again. And that’s important. But knowing why does not change the outcome.
Sometimes, there is value in just shrugging your shoulders, admitting you don’t know why and moving on to a new question.
I suppose it’s a case of picking your battles.
I started this whole blog series as an effort to improve myself a little each week. To challenge myself to learn more, to be better. As it draws to a close, I have definitely learned the importance of asking why, what comes with it and when to let it go.
I will keep asking why forever. I’m curious that way. But I do hope to get better at recognising when the why is pointed in the wrong direction, so I can back out of one cul de sac and go find a different can of worms to open!
I also aim to get better at using metaphors!!