I am visiting my 2 year old (soon to be 3) granddaughter. If you have kids, you know what happens around their third birthday… everything becomes, why? And not just single, why is that? but a continuing stream of whys. Once I answer the first why, it is often followed by 4,5, or even 6 why questions in a row.
The Power of Why
If I become even slightly impatient with the steady stream of questions, I remember that asking why is one important way to learn. It’s unfortunate that we, as adults, stop asking why. We assume that we know the answer… so we don’t ask why. Or we’re afraid to look silly or worse, not all knowing. Somehow, by virtue of our age, we’re suddenly supposed to know ‘everything.’
Growing – Personally and Professionally
On a personal level, we can ask why of people we love to better understand their thoughts and feelings. This requires us to listen to the answer. If we just ask why and don’t work to understand the answer, we are missing an opportunity to connect to those we care most about.
Professionally, have you ever heard of root cause analysis (also known as the 5 whys) ? In this problem solving exercise, a series of why questions are asked in order to get at the ‘root’ of the problem. When there is an issue, we can keep asking why (of the people who best know the answer, i.e. maybe not the manager, but the worker) until we get some at the root.
When we ask why, we have to defer to the other person’s knowledge. This is not easy for those of us who think we’re smart and know a lot. I have to practice humility, daily. I have to remind myself that things change, often. Remind myself that other people know a lot, that they see things differently from me. And that is good. Every day, I look with gratitude at the people in my life, at the work I have the privilege to be engaged in, at the beauty of the world around me.
I don’t have to ask why nature is beautiful and powerful, I just know it is. It’s there everyday, unchanged in it’s power. There are other things that don’t require a why, but not that many. ‘Why’, fills in the blanks, updates the database in our heads, changes the way we interact with people in the world.