I read an interesting article on Medium. There was a lot of useful stuff in it, but one particular bit of advice jumped out at me.
Every year, people will do things that seem irrationally bad. They will do those things TO us.
You can’t ask “Why?” If someone fires you from a job and you ask “Why?” They are not going to give you a good answer.
If someone lies to you or cheats on you or leaves you and you ask “Why? they will not give you an honest answer. Often there is no answer.
…Only ask “WHY?” when you can gain. Never ask it when you know there is no answer.
I came to pretty much the same conclusion several years ago. I’d only add a little refinement to this. Most of the time, we get obsessed with why, when what we really need to know is how.
We are creatures in search of meaning, and we want to assign some to the watershed events of our lives. So we demand to know why it happened. Was it because we’re the Protagonist, and Protagonists need setbacks to grow?
We ask it because we want to assign meaning to our suffering – but more because we want to find (and disarm) the smoking gun. We think if we can figure out why it happened, we can prevent it from happening again. But most of the time, it’s not the why you need, it’s the how.
I don’t know why people bully and abuse others. Or cheat on their spouses. Or fire a decent employee. The reasons are many and complicated. Teasing out one clear, preventable “smoking gun” is impossible.
But I know how bullies operate – it’s startlingly predictable. How an affair starts is depressingly consistent. How jobs fail to work out is pretty well-documented stuff. And even if it wasn’t, it’s not hard to do the forensic work of following the trail of how it happened to you.
Once you see the Rube Goldberg device, the Wile E. Coyote “roadrunner trap” of how, you can spot its weak points. Sometimes it’s so fragile, you just have to push one piece out of place to break it. It also becomes easy to spot the whole ridiculous armature, and avoid it in the future.
But many of us don’t stop there, because we think we need a deeper reason why. We don’t. Furthermore, that way lies madness. Because no answer is going to ultimately satisfy you.
If you don’t believe me, think of the last time you heard a toddler or preschooler ask an adult “Why?”
What happens next, no matter what answer they get?
We never really outgrow that, do we?