The Imperative of Asking “Why?"

A few days ago, I found myself at the dentist’s office discussing my son’s wisdom teeth. From the x-rays taken last summer, you could see them coming in strong and straight. The doctor asked me if I wanted to take them out. I asked, “Why?”

“Because that’s what we do.”

I have a lot of quirks, but one of them is the instant desire to do the opposite of anything suggested merely because it’s, “what we do.” The moment I hear those words, I probe further.

“Well,” I said. “Why do we do it?”

“Because there isn’t always room in the mouth for this set of teeth.”

“Does my son have enough room?”


“Will they come in straight?”


“Then why should we remove them?”

Pause. Smile. Finally, “Because they’re hard to clean. Keeping them healthy will require good dental care.”

“Don’t we need good dental care to keep all our teeth healthy?”

Still smiling, “Of course.”

I turned to my son and said, “It seems that if you want to keep your wisdom teeth, you’ll need to take care of them.” Which is exactly what’s called for to keep any of our teeth.

“Because that’s what we do.” There’s a lot of this in the world. So many systems, customs, conventions and procedures that we put up with simply because we don’t bother to ask why. Why do we have only two political parties? Why do we only allow marriage in pairs rather than trios or more? Why do we circumcise our sons? Why do we need to take a dozen standardized tests to get into college? Why are bombing Syria? Why is marijuana illegal? Why do we have single sex bathrooms?

Children always ask why and are often told to stop asking. To that I ask, why? Why do we tell our children to stop asking the only question that really matters in this world? Why is vital to learning. You can memorize something, but unless you ask why, you don’t own it. To ask why and then follow the path to the answer is learning at its purest. When my kids ask why, I often reply, “I wonder, I wonder.” Sometimes I give them an answer, other times I just let them wonder.

To ask why is to wonder about the world around you. Those who ask why are often seen as trouble makers, but really these are the change agents. If someone asks you why you do something, and you take the time to answer them, then discussion occurs. And it may very well be that at the end of the day both the questioner and the one being asked the question learn a lot.

Creatives are those who never stop asking why. Even though their parents and teachers might have tried to beat it out of them, they must ask the question often. This is what it means to be curious. Why often leads to how. How would it be to ride on the back of a particle of light? How would it be to live in a building one hundred stories high? How could we build it in a safe and sturdy manner? Then how can lead to what. What would it mean if we could communicate using radio signals? How can we transfer electricity throughout a city? Why do we use fuel that pollutes, and is difficult to mine without hazard, to heat our homes? How could we use the sun, or wind or water? Why do we still keep our account data in regions, like we did back when we were a telephony company, when now we’re a nationwide cable company running on an elegant, seamless fiber optic network? (That last question is for Comcast, who still doesn’t allow the Central Division to have access to customer data in the Western Division even though data by its nature essentially exists everywhere at all times.)

And now, as the Information Age completely threatens to overtake industry and bring us to the next evolution of living on this planet, it becomes even more important for all of us, creators and users alike to ask, WHY???? Because if we don’t, then we’ll find ourselves in a strange hybrid of a civilization where technology is stunted due to our fear and our society is a mess of industrial surfdoms.  And if we wait until then to ask why, we all know the answer will be…

“Because this is what we do.”

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