"Why" is the wrong question
There is no human being, regardless of age who has not asked the question “why”. It is one of the most fundamental of questions and really helps us get to the root of things. Asking “why” questions is an integral part of growing up and maturing, it is the lens through which we seek to understand our lived experiences. According to my mother I was a bit of a stubborn kid and would not easily be swayed to do anything unless I understood why I needed to do it, I think my husband would confirm that I have carried some of that ‘stubbornness’ into my adult life and in some ways it has served me well and in other ways not so much.
While listening to podcasts or even sermons, I have often heard it said that asking “why” is the wrong question; I assume you might have heard this too at some point in your interactions or perhaps you have read it in some form of literature. Although to some degree I understand what this is meant to imply, namely that 'why questions' ask for a conclusive answer and as a consequence it can be perceived as a challenge instead of an invitation to deepen understanding, I cannot fully agree with the narrative that asking "why" is the wrong question. I could agree that in certain contexts “why” questions may not be helpful or even beneficial, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Coming up with an answer to a why question requires ownership, responsibility and action, if we don’t know “why”, then we cannot fully understand what we’re doing because why gives purpose and intent to our actions and decisions.
As a person who needs to know why, I have asked a million “why” questions and in so doing I have learnt that asking such questions makes room for 3 important things:
When my husband and I began to seriously think about starting a charity, take a guess at which question we talked about the most? You guessed it, “why”. Why do we want to start a charity, why in the Democratic Republic of Congo, why do we want to focus on orphans, why should we name it Nakuona… the list was endless. The more we labored through multiple variations of the “why” question, the clearer the path became because it forced us to reflect. Reflection results in learning and learning produces growth.
Human beings are wired to seek for meaning and because much of what we are exposed to happens so fast and is informed by so many external influences, we need time to process and internalize. Reflection allows us to get to the heart of why we do what we do.
The natural progression from reflection is correction, what I mean by this is “why” questions when answered honestly either reinforce a certain course of action, or help to correct it.
The answer to “why” exposes motive, intent and purpose. “Why” is a difficult question to wrestle with because it requires a good dose of introspection.
Once the hard work of wading through the mire of “why” has been done, we are then able to set our feet firmly on a particular course and confidently follow it through; introspection leads to action.
So the next time you hear someone say that “why” is the wrong question, gently correct them that understanding why gives purpose and intent to our actions and decisions. So this is why I think that “why” is not the wrong question.
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