By Mark Anthony Lord
At some time in our life we all have either been joyously amused or deeply frustrated by the 3- or 4-year-old child who can’t stop asking, “Why?” “Why doesn’t that person have hair, Mommy?” “Why is she crying, Daddy?” “Why do I have to go to bed?” “Why can’t I have ice cream?” “Why?” “Why?”
That natural wonder is comical and entertaining. It can also be maddening because it often doesn’t take long for the child to bring us to the point where we have to say, “I don’t know why!”
Of course there are appropriate times to ask “Why?” Much great advancement has been created from the simple question. When it comes to the wonders of the world and the mysteries of the body and spirit, asking “why” has brought great thinkers to invaluable revelations. However, when the question involves the self and one’s relationships with others, asking “Why?” can often cause suffering.
Why, you ask? Because we beat ourselves up with this question. “Why can’t I lose that last 10 pounds?” “Why am I so lazy?” “Why did I say that?” “Why can’t I figure out what I want to do with my life?” We get into arguments with loved ones over the question as well. “Why did you say that?” “Why did you bring that?” “Why are you late?” “Why can’t you stop doing that?”
We ask “Why?” as if we’re going to get some groundbreaking insight that will make all of life suddenly make sense. We ask it as if knowing the psychological mumbo-jumbo that lives underneath our choices will lead us into new, healthier behaviors. But it doesn’t—because it’s the wrong question. Just like the 3- or 4-year-old incessantly asking, “Why?” that cycle of thought will eventually lead you into the frustrated response: “I don’t know why!”
Instead of asking “Why?”—consider changing to the following more active and empowering questions:
Who am I to be?
In every situation we have a choice about what part of ourselves shows up. Taking the time to ask who you’re here to be can activate compassion and personal responsibility.
What can I do about this right now?
This question allows you to choose new, positive action instead of habitual reaction. What could you do differently to cause greater care, connection and change?
When is the time to handle this?
It’s true—timing is everything. Taking a moment to assess your environment, energy and emotional state can really make a difference and generate positive and loving communication with yourself or others. It also helps you create boundaries that can make you happy in the moment and productive when it’s time to be.
Pay attention to how often you are asking or pondering “Why?” and see if it’s really the right question. I bet you’ll discover that it’s not. Notice how often it makes you and yours more confused and frustrated.
Want to make a positive change and improve your relationships? Give up the why and get into the who, what and when. Use these questions to create kindness and transform your thoughts and language for greater good. You have the power.
Rev. Mark Anthony Lord is an internationally-recognized author, speaker, teacher and the Spiritual Director of the Bodhi Spiritual Center in Chicago, IL. Learn more at markanthonylord.com and bodhispiritualcenter.org.