Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why ask Why?

This is my favorite question...Why?

It is a good one, if not the best. Why?

Glad you asked. In short, when we ask "why?" we are drawn into pure truth and the truth, I do believe, sets one free. But just how does asking "why?" drive us to truth?

Because is draws up deeply hidden motives from the respondee. Of course, that is only if the respondee is willing to answer the question honestly. What if honesty is lacking? Ask "Why?" again and keep asking until the person you are talking to either gets angry with the question (which means you are getting uncomfortably close to the truth) or answers firmly, "that's all. That's my answer." (which means you've arrived at the truth). We can use this technique/question on ourselves or others, but be warned, people may not like being probed like this and friends may begin avoiding you if you do this to them.

What follows are two simple dialogues between a parent and child to illustrate how this simple question digs into the truth:

MOM: I told you to stay out of the cookies; Why did you get one anyway?

CHILD: Because I was bored and wanted to have fun.

Now think about this for a moment. If that was your child, what would your reaction be? Would you be angry? Would you think the kid was simply trying to "push your buttons?" Would you think the child lying? Would you think he'd lost his marbles and was going to resort to using chocolate chips instead? Would you know what to think? Would you think this was the truth and that there was much validity in that truth? Before going any further, let me tell you that his answer is the truth and it makes perfect sense, in context.

The fact is, we seldom jump from such a question right to the bare-naked truth because either we ourselves don't really make such connections or because at some point in time we did tell the absolute truth and paid a price for it, such as being put in a corner or some other such behavior-modification technique. So we learn to "skirt" the truth in various ways. As children, we practice and hone such techniques for avoiding truth until they are so polished, even we often cannot tell where truth starts and embellishments end. Or vice-versa. Let's read the second dialog, which is somewhat more realistic.

MOM: I told you to stay out of the cookies; Why did you get one anyway?

CHILD: I don't know.

MOM: Why?

CHILD: Because.

MOM: Because why?

CHILD: Because Tommy wanted one.

MOM: Why?

CHILD: Because Tommy said if we gave her a cookie, his sister would let us play her Playstation.

MOM: Why?

CHILD: Because we wanted to play.

MOM: Why?

CHILD: Because it's fun.

MOM: Why?

CHILD: Because it's fun and we're bored.

MOM: Why?

CHILD: I just told you why.

Get it? The child took a cookie after being told not to because he was bored and the cookie was the price to escape boredom. Of course, if the child had made such a connection on his own and answered with the truth from the start, the mother would likely have reacted in a negative manner. So the child first attempted to avoid the truth (having learned from previous honest answers) then gave partial truths until that base-line truth was revealed.

Now how do you think the parent reacted? That, of course, depends on the parent. But at least now, the parent knows and understands the truth behind the prohibited behavior. This will have an impact on whatever punishment, if any, if delivered.

But notice too, that the prohibited action was not taken out of malice or spite, nor from hunger or a simple desire of the pleasure a cookies brings, but rather, from a deep-seated need to avert boredom. A need within the child totally unrelated to the cookie.

Many of our needs are like this. We often do things that we second-guess or that makes others ask, "Why did you do that?" Our answer is often like the child, "I don't know." And perhaps we don't or perhaps we do, deep down inside and don't want to reveal the truth to others for fear of some form of retribution. We all do this.

But what if the choice we make has seriously negative consequences? What if we know these before acting? Is there some way to make better choices?

Yes. In the first sense, by asking ourselves "why" over and over, we can come to an understanding of what need within we are seeking to fill. Once we have figured that out, we are in a better position to fill the need. For instance, suppose the child had gone to the mother in the first place, explained the situation, and asked for a cookie for Tommy's sister? The mom would have likely either given him a cookie for the girl or suggested an alternative solution. Either would be better than the abuse of trust and the subsequent punishment.

It is the same with us, the so-called "grown-ups." We can either learn to identify the truth behind our actions or proposed actions or we can simply march ahead to whatever consequences may be forthcoming. The choice is ours to make.

So, why ask why?

Why do birds fly?

Because that's how they were made.

Nothing beats the truth.