This question probably conjures up memories of raising your toddler. The incessant questions. I tried very hard to answer every one as honestly as I could, without betraying any frustration that I might have been feeling as I was rushing to get out the door to work, or prepare supper, or whatever automatically necessary task was in front of me at the time.
My parents were smart. They bought me an entire encyclopadia set. “Why, Daddy?” “Go look it up.”
So I did. I was often found sitting on the floor near the front door (which is where the bookshelves were, with half the volumes lying open at crazy angles on the floor all around me. Mom eventually named me The Encyclopaediac, because of the seeming addiction.
Remember that film Short Circuit in the 90’s? Input! Want input! That was me.
Or maybe the question reminds you of that story (probably an urban myth) of the philosophy exam question, with the only A grade being awarded to the wise guy who wrote Why not? and handed in his paper.
Whatever the image in your head, I’ve realized that one reason God gifts you with children is to get you thinking about questions you’ve stopped asking for way too long.
A defining feature of human life is pain. Physical, emotional, intellectual, etc.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Oh, how interesting. Not happiness, but the pursuit of it.
In short, happiness is asymtotic. You can chase it, you’ll get closer to it, but you’ll never get there. There’s always a pain, an unfillable void, an unsolved problem. Them thar founding American fathers knew something we’ve forgotten.
This is why I think you should return to that childhood habit of asking Why?
I feel edgy this morning.
Well, I’ve got to go to work, and there’s an all-hands meeting that will be boring, and that ignorant numpty will be running it.
Well, he likes to buttonhole me sometimes by asking me a question in the meeting, and it usually comes when my mind’s been wandering.
Well, I hate being under everyone’s gaze in a big meeting, especially if I’m unsure of my answer.
Well, I hate speaking in public.
Well, it reminds me of that time back in school . . . .
Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere. Why?
Or try this one:
Today’s been a total waste of time.
Because I’m not working a normal 9-to-5 job, and I feel like I made hardly any progress on that new short course I started. (Note: This one hits very close to home for me at the moment.)
Ah, OK, Why’d you feel that way?
Well, I’m the odd one out on this street. They’ve all gone off to work, and I’m home alone with this stupid short course, which I’m now wishing I hadn’t started.
Think all your neighbours were really excited to sit in traffic and go to that job they hate this morning?
Hmmmm . . . .
And why’d you wish you hadn’t started this short course?
Cause half the stuff they’re teaching, I don’t know the answers to, and I’m going to have to go digging.
Why’s that so bad?
We-e-e-lllll …. I guess I’m scared of not being able to find out what I need to find out.
Why’s that? Has that happened before?
Ummmmmm ……. no, I guess not.
So why’s today been a waste of time?
(Pause, as the victim adjusts his or her perspective.)
Those are two slightly cheesy examples of what can happen when you make a habit of asking Why?
Why? helps you silence the shriekings of your inner chimp, and home in with laserlight precision on the real issue that causes your current pain. It may not eliminate the pain, but I find 9/10 times that it at least lessens it.
Remember: To identify the problem is to solve it. Asking Why? enough times will usually get you there.
It is nothing more than an imagined conversation between two people, both of whom are you. A thought experiment, if you will. Theoretical physics comes crashing through the door of Your Mind’s Psychology.
It’s even a recognized method of investigating manufacturing defects. Five Why’s. That’s generally all it takes to get to the root of the actual problem. Or (better expressed) labelling the visible problems as symptoms, and treating the real problem.
So before you take any painkillers, before you take that next drink …. ask yourself Why? and then Why? again.