Why NOT ask why?

Monkey-typingI have been woefully negligent of my own blog lately. That’s not to say I haven’t been writing. Quite the contrary. I’ve been feverishly rewriting a novel to publish as a second edition of The Case of a Cold Trail and a Hot Musket. The revised version—updated and rebranded with a whole new cover establishing the “look” for the entire Marianna Morgan series—will be available within a week. Please watch for Double Trouble on Amazon.

I’ve also finished my new novel, Virgilante, which I am submitting to Kindle Scout shortly after Double Trouble goes up on Amazon. And I recently submitted it to a Hollywood contest scouting for novels suitable for conversion to screenplays. Fingers crossed!

I’m also halfway through the second Marianna book — Udder Confusion. I hope to have it out by December (depending on the editor’s schedule).

WhyBut today’s post isn’t about what I’m writing. It’s about something more powerful and far-reaching. I’ve long believed adults let too much go without comment or question. They don’t want to be rude. They want to avoid confrontation. But then nothing ever changes. Or it gets worse.

I was inspired by the old Bud Why ask why? commercials to start my own campaign slogan: Why NOT ask why?

I truly believe that if adults asked the hard WHY questions more often the world would be a much better place.

I recently had this exchange with someone who hates a particular candidate:

Me: Why don’t you like X?
Them: Because X said “this nonsense.”
Me: X didn’t say that. Here’s proof: Link to proof. Why do you still believe it?
Them: They also did Y.
Me: Here’s proof they didn’t: Link to proof. So why do you say that?
Them: I heard they also Z.
Me: Heard from whom? That’s not true, either. See: Another link to proof. Why did you simply believe an unreliable source?
Them: grumble grumble grumble

What I’ve found is that, when questioned, the ultimate truth comes out — prejudices, attitudes, bigotries, and hatreds are almost always based on nothing but the person’s own irrational beliefs. There are no actual facts.

If we challenge those people by asking WHY, we can collectively change the world. When someone is confronted with that question, and ultimately has no reasonable answer, a new, productive conversation can start.

PollyannaNow I’m no Pollyanna. Okay, actually, yes I am, but I truly believe that confronting issues and asking why-questions is an excellent start. Think about all the possibilities with children:

Why did you push Bobby down?
Why did you break Sue’s science project?
Why did you call Tom such a bad name?

This about the missed opportunities with adults:

Why did you think that joke was funny?
Why did you grab my butt while I was at the copier?
Why did you tell the neighbors about my dumb mistake?

The trick is to keep asking why until the person realizes they have no good answer. Don’t accept “I don’t know” as an answer, especially not the FIRST answer. Here’s how one conversation could go (I specifically picked an example that is somewhat “tame” compared to some I’ve been in):

“Why did you think that joke was funny?”
“It made me laugh. I thought others would like it.”
“Why did you laugh at a joke about a disabled woman having trouble entering a building?”
“The way the door kept getting stuck was hilarious.”
“Why do you think her being stuck in a door and scared was funny?”
“You’re just too stuffy/stuck up/whatever.”
“Why do you think it’s wrong to believe making fun of someone who is suffering is a terrible thing?
And so on.

Face planetIf we start with the young, and also include the rest of us adults, we can make everyone think. We can also make people own their behaviors. Too often, we simply turn a blind eye. We don’t confront the bully – we tell the bullied child to avoid him. We don’t confront the office jerk. We make sure we’re not alone around him. We don’t confront the spouse who told something embarrassing we did because it’s easier to just forget she said it.

Will it come off as confrontational to the recipient? No doubt. Is it a little bit of a “jerky behavior”? Probably. But… why is that a bad thing? Why is it inappropriate to make people own up to their bulliness/bigotries? (See what I did there?)

Who’s with me? Let’s hold people accountable for their words and actions. Let’s go change the world! Why NOT?


  1. Tammy Francis:

    Interesting perspective. I mostly agree. I think “why questions” work best when we’re not fishing for an answer, and that may be part of the problem of “why not ask why.” We are very suspicious of people asking our motivations, we assume they have a personal agenda, and I find most of the time, they do.

    It is rarely out of pure curiosity or interest in another’s opinion that most people ask “why.” More often than not they are looking for a confirmation of a preconceived assessment or POV. Unfortunately we’ve been run through with they “why” question as an in to further a cause, POV, or ideology.

    The “why” question goes along with the “how can you believe, or how can you think that way,” which easily puts people on the defense.

    I’m all for asking why and understanding motivation, but for it to be productive, I have to be open to an answer. I must embrace the idea that I don’t understand or that their reason “why” doesn’t fit with my POV. That’s a rare and difficult thing. I know I am still working on it.

    Thanks for the perspective and thought poke!

    ~ Tam Francis ~


    • janet:

      Thanks for your comments. I did intend in the blog to imply that we WANT to push people to answer. If a bully pushes a kid down, I’m not asking why out of idle curiosity. I WANT to push that bully to address their motivation and their own bigotry or hatred. I want why questions to be a motivator for change. My point here isn’t about asking “Why do you not like spinach” or “Why is blue your favorite color.” It’s much deeper than that.

      Understanding motivation and seeking to effect change are not always the same thing. I don’t really care to “understand” the motivation of a rapist or bully. I want to force them to address the deep reasons behind “why did you do that?” That’s the only way these things will stop. There IS no alternate POV in my humble opinion. Rape is wrong. Bullying is wrong. Misogyny is wrong. Bigotry is wrong. And until we address the people committing those behaviors and expect an answer, they will just continue right on doing them.


  2. Joseph Freenor:

    You may or may not remember a certain exchange in which you said, “I don’t understand why you thought it was OK to [take that action].” But I do, and it caused me to do quite a bit of soul searching. So, why can be a good thing at times.


    • janet:

      Thank you Joseph.


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