Learning to ask “why?”

Four-year-olds. They can be kind of annoying. They’re always asking “why?” Why is the sky blue? Why can’t I fly? Why does the cut hurt? Each of us was once an annoying four year-old, incessantly curious about every little thing. But something happens between age four and college. Many of our questions get answered. We find new interests, and things to do instead of asking questions. We also realize how annoying our continuous stream of questions is. And so we stop. But should we? Could there be something good about asking those questions, something we’ve lost through the years? Is there something worth holding on to? I think there is.

When some new band gets popular and all your friends start getting into them, we’d say they’re “jumping on the band wagon.” They’re just going along with whatever everybody else does. But is that bad? What if they really are a good band? What if that politician everybody’s following really can do good? What if that far-out ideology really is true?

Just because everybody’s “jumping on the bandwagon” doesn’t mean the bandwagon’s bad. But it doesn’t mean it’s good either. We have to search and determine for ourselves if something is good or bad, true or false. When someone tells us something, we must ask “why?” We must listen to the new band, try the new thing, question the new idea or philosophy, and determine for ourselves if we like it or if it’s true.

We got this. We’re smart. We are at college, after all. When something new comes out, we know to test it. But what about old things? What about the ideologies we’ve been brought up believing, things just assumed in our society? Polygamy is wrong. Democracy is best. Progress is good. We accept these ideas, but most of us have never examined them. We simply trust the bandwagon to be true.

Now, it could be true or false or right or wrong, but the only way to find out is to examine it – to ask “why?” Once we examine it for ourselves, we can be confident which side it falls on. If our assumption proves false, we’ll fix it. And if our assumption proves true, we’ll understand and appreciate it in a whole new and better way. Plus, our assumption won’t be an assumption anymore – it’ll be a grounded belief, something with meaning.

This semester, I’ll be writing a recurring column in the Threefold, asking some of these basic questions we may have never asked. I encourage you to read, think, and discuss. Don’t assume that whatever I write is true. Push back – you may come to different conclusions.

Questioning our basic assumptions can be scary. The foundation we trusted to be solid may turn out to be quite unstable, and that doesn’t exactly make one feel comfortable. But it’s worth it – for a better foundation, a better understanding and a better world. So get back in touch with that four-year-old inside of you. Think deeper. Ask “why?”