Why? It’s a powerful question. So why have so many of us stopped asking it?
If you’re a parent or have had the privilege of being around small children, you’ve no doubt become a master at the Why game. You know, the game that is essential to a child’s early development where your beloved toddler doles out the never-ending onslaught of “why” questions. Questions that may include, but are not limited to: Why is the sky blue? Why does ice cream melt? Why do people die? Why is that man sleeping on the park bench? Why do I have to eat my vegetables? Why does that lady need a wheelchair?
Young children are full of thousands of questions like these. They’ve learned from the people around them that it is natural to ask why and that asking questions is the easiest and most effective way to learn.
My son was no exception. Like many parents I was extremely proud of my son’s intelligence and inquisitive nature. My son is an incredibly bright kid, so it was a rather common occurrence that he’d still have many unanswered questions by the time he reached the end of my knowledge on a particular topic.
Initially, I was amused by his curiosity and amazed at how his mind worked. He wanted to know the inner workings of everything and his thirst for knowledge was unquenchable. Then his questions became more and more difficult until eventually, I grew tired of his barrage of questions. Before too long, I was encouraging him to Google the answers himself and loved when he would ramble off some random tidbit of knowledge he acquired as though he was my very own walking, talking encyclopedia.
Recently, I was spending the day with my son and was confused as to why he was using a convoluted method to complete one of his assignments. He explained that it was the best way he could come up with based on the information presented to him. I considered his response and asked if he ever questioned why he was asked to do something a specific way? When it was clear that he hadn’t bothered asking, I wondered at what point did he change from the inquisitive toddler who challenged everything to a preteen who merely accepted things at face value.
I began contemplating whether I was to blame for this. Maybe if I had encouraged him more rather than giving him the autonomy to explore the answers on his own at such an early age, he would still be asking why. Maybe it was the fault of our educational system which has an inclination to reward students for answering questions correctly rather than praising them for asking good questions.
It then dawned on me that many of us have a tendency to accept what we hear without thinking critically and forming our own opinions. It’s as if we’ve become brainwashed to accept the reasoning behind subject matter than to question it and/or engage ourselves in it. There are even some individuals who refuse to ask questions at all, and when they do, they tend to focus on what, where, when or how.
Why? It’s a powerful question. So powerful that scientists used it to cure diseases and our great philosophers used it to better understand the human condition and seek out answers to The Big Question.
So, if it is such a powerful question, why have so many of us stopped asking it? Does our curiosity diminish when we enter adulthood because we are too concerned with fitting in than questioning the world around us? Or have our fears, doubts and worries grown so much that it eclipses our unique and inquisitive nature?
The answer varies. For some, the reason is due to laziness. They assume they know all the things they need to know and don’t bother to ask more. They often end up looking foolish because they cling to their beliefs and assumptions instead of being open-minded.
Others fear that asking why will make them appear weak, ignorant, or uncertain (our educational system and work culture has helped induce this fear). They try to give the illusion that they are a knowledge expert on relevant issues while fearing that asking why might cast them in a poor light or introduce uncertainty and doubt.
Finally, there are some individuals who make wrong decisions because they are in such a hurry to get things moving that they do not stop to ask questions for fear it may slow things down.
Regardless of the reason, the reality is that asking why is a sign of strength, and intelligence – not a sign of weakness or uncertainty. The majority of our great leaders constantly ask why and have accepted that they do not have all of the answers. They have learned that asking why will help their employees think more analytically, enabling greater understanding and preventing scope creep. They also realize that asking why will help stimulate, provoke, inform and inspire their employees.
I was taught from an early age that life is an amazing journey, and that is true. Well, it can be, but only if we embrace it and allow ourselves the opportunity to evolve. Asking why is critical to that evolution, as it enables us to understand ourselves, our goals and the expectations that are placed upon us.
To drive this point home (even further), here are seven reasons why asking why is so important:
- It fosters personal growth
Asking why can move you in a new direction and get you to think about your core values and beliefs. It can make you reassess everything you’ve learned since childhood and help you to evolve by enabling you to work out what is important to you.
- It promotes a healthy mindset
When you ask why, you are evaluating your life and your habits in order to get to know yourself better. Questioning yourself will provide you with clarity and a better outlook because you will have a greater understanding as to why you do the things you do. The information you learn about yourself will enable you to make an informed decision as to what changes, if any, are necessary. Your mind is essential for your well-being, so learn to ask why more and challenge yourself daily.
- It inspires courage
Fear cripples many people from reaching their fullest potential. Many people are afraid to ask why because they don’t want to know the answer, are too afraid of the answer, or feel guilty that they will ignore the answer. If you make it a personal mission to ask why more and openly challenge things, it will inspire others to do the same. If they see that you are learning and growing because of your curiosity and fearlessness, they too will face their fears head on. Remember, leading by example is a surefire way to inspire others.
- It encourages communication
Communication is important to personal and professional relationships; however, fear can stop you from asking vital questions which can hinder this exchange. Asking why will open up conversation and steer you to the truth of any problem or situation that occurs. It’s good to be honest, and asking why will bring up any concerns. It is then up to you to make an informed decision based on the information that was shared. Asking why, as opposed to jumping to conclusions, will lead to successful and productive conversations.
- It highlights awareness and influences change
In business, you knowingly take a risk by asking why because you are seeking an answer that may shape your next move. Asking why can also help get to the root cause of an issue which is necessary to take corrective action, or influence others that taking corrective action is the right thing to do. If you wish to spread awareness and/or influence change, ask why about a topic close to your heart.
- It promotes creativity
People, organizations, and teams who start by asking what, how, and who questions are short-sighted. They focus on plans, strategies, and tactics, missing the primary goal. Asking why will not only help you get to the root cause and understand the motivation behind why something is being done a specific way, it is inspirational. While everyone on the team may be unique in their approach towards a creative solution, they are all on the same page regarding why they are seeking a solution in the first place.
- It eliminates confusion
The best way to get context in any situation is to ask why, sometimes repeatedly. Asking why eliminates confusion caused by pre-conceived notions, which are fueled by lack of knowledge, or more dangerous, misinformed knowledge. Asking why defines a clear path and brings everyone on the same page.
So, the next time you are faced with a tough decision, ask why or what the context is behind making the choice. Learn to recognize the reason behind what you’re doing and when to ask why. Not only will this drive more effective conversations and exchanges, it may also save precious time and personal energy.
Last but not least, if you notice that someone close to you has stopped questioning and/or challenging things, encourage him or her to ask why. Explain that to be successful, they should always be aware of the reasons why they are doing something, and those reasons should always be their driving force – a force they should never lose sight of!