Don't ask why
When it is time to ask, you will not need to
Of the five reporter's questions there’s one you can leave out. Whether you’re doing customer research, interrogating a suspect, or helping a friend through a heartbreak, don’t ask why.
You probably want to know why. First, asking why can invite speculation, a nasty habit of uninformed humans:
Why did the king abdicate the throne?
It can also make folks feel defensive:
Why is this living room a mess?
It can nudge folks to justify rather than explain:
Why are you so sad?
Notice how this feels different from:
What made you feel sad?
When did you start feeling that way?
Don’t start with why. What, where, and when are simple questions that let the other side engage in recall. They invite your conversation partner (let’s call them Yolotzin) into the cabinet of their mind, where they can collect the raw materials of story.
“What” gets Yolotzin thinking visually. “Where” gives them a sense of place. “When” reminds them about the existence of time. And the unsung “How” is a sliding puzzle that challenges Yolotzin to explore the relationships therein.
If there is a moment to ask why, it’s at the end—and by that I mean “of life.”
Why is a philosophical finger aimed at the boundless fog we call purpose, cause, or quintessence. You won’t appreciate its bounty until you have asked every other question in your power to ask. Spend time with those awash in such curiosity, they don’t ask why. They tend to live it instead.