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The Most Important Question is Always “Why”

The most important question is always why. Why do you think that is?

Picture a familiar scenario. Your young child asks one day…

“Why did you marry Mommy?”

“Because we love each other.”

“But, why?”

“Because we grew to care for each other.”


“We were attracted to each other…”


“…so we started to spend time together.”

“But why not somebody else?”

“Because we felt that we were meant for each other.”

“Why did you think that?”



It may be annoying, but isn’t that how we always learned as kids? Sure, as kids we knew quickly that it bugged adults, but we kept asking for two reasons. 1) It got a rise out of grownups, and 2) we really did learn a lot by asking.

When Did Why Become Taboo?

Why did we stop? Did we start to feel uncomfortable asking the why question? Maybe we felt as though it intruded on the askee. As we matured, did we start to feel it was rude?

In this information age, we are constantly bombarded with more information in a week than our ancestors in their entire lives. We’re drowning in facts and figures, and overwhelmed with the available knowledge. But at the same time, it takes us too long to find the answers we’re looking for. Why is that? Are we not asking the right questions, or are we avoiding the why questions?

Sometimes we’re afraid to answer the why questions, because it may expose our lack of understanding. Once you can ask why , you’re on the path to learning.

“Why would I use a GridView instead of a Repeater?”

Doesn’t it feel safer to just lookup details about the GridView control and the Repeater control and just compare them ourselves? Don’t want to seem stupid for asking why we’d use one over the other, right?

Too Many What Questions

Too many books and tutorials start out with the “do this, then do that” without explaining why. Why did you take this approach?”

The question that triggers the most thinking is the why question. Whys will make you wiser.

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

If someone fails at something, they ask themselves all kinds of questions. “What did I do? How do I make this different next time?” But the question they’ll get the most out of is, “Why did I choose to do it that way? Why should I do it differently next time?” By asking the why , you learn a lot about the motivating factors that led towards the path of failure to begin with, so you can avoid that same path next time. Maybe your motivations were wrong. Maybe your decisions were based on faulty or incomplete information. Asking what will only lead to identifying what you did wrong. But without understanding the “why”, there is no basis for change. You can easily repeat the same mistakes.

If you’re teaching someone, ask yourself why you’re teaching that way. By questioning yourself, you may discover a better way to explain things.

Arrogance — What Without Why

Just stating what to do can come off as arrogant. It’s like your parents telling you when you were younger, “do it because I said so” — like that actually motivated you to do it. It actually motivated you to do the opposite, just to discover the why , yourself. Why do they want you to do it, and what would happen if you didn’t? Why helps you fill in gaps of knowledge.

If you want someone to do something, explaining the why allows them to feel more apt to do it. In the worst case, at least maybe they could suggest a better option if they at least they know your motivation.

The Power of Why

Why is an extremely powerful question with potentially powerful answers. It teaches us to question everything. We live in a society where we take almost everything for granted. That’s because most people are afraid of asking why . The answers may challenge the way we’ve always approached things our whole lives. But at the same time, it opens up a whole new set of opportunities.

Why is the key to self-discovery. It helps you understand yourself better. At the same time, it’s the scariest question you could ask of yourself. It forces you to look into the mirror.

All questions are powerful, but if you start with why, the what, how, and when just fills in the blanks to resolve the why .

The Problems with Most Tests

This is also why multiple choice tests are a very poor learning tool. It tests memorization. They ask the what, not the why. Essay questions are the why questions. It forces us to think. It forces us to analyze, which leads to true learning. Unfortunately, the system encourages the simple (for teachers) multiple choice tests.


Why do you think the Imponderables series of books are so popular? Because most of the questions start out with why . Why is the most interesting question. Their answers satisfy our curiosity. Be aware that some what questions are just why questions in disguise, so don’t take it literally when I say that why questions are the most important. Related why disguises are “What is the reason for that? What is the meaning of that? How can you do that?” (all of them really mean, “Why did you do that?” ), etc.

When someone is reporting bad news, isn’t the first question that comes to mind the why question? “Why would somebody commit that crime? Why was that person in that neighborhood so late?” Why do they want to start a war?” One of the first things investigators look for is the motive for a crime. While the CSIs look for the what to help prove a crime was committed and by whom, when deciding guilt or the level of punishment, it all comes down to the why. He can be guilty if we could find a motivation he may have had. Once we have a motivation, we can tie him to the crime.

Why Forces You to Think

Why questions should make you pause to consider your answer, and not just shoot from the hip. “Why did that person cut me off?” should cause you to consider that maybe she just got an emergency phone call, or she’s rushing to the hospital, or she’s late for work, instead of just saying, “she’s a jerk.” If nothing else, it could allow you to calm down and consider why someone did something rather than what they just did to you.

Why is the most fascinating question. Don’t fear it. It’s a powerful tool. Wield it.


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