10/06/2011

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Why? "Why?" It was many years ago now, but I can still remember the first time my eldest son asked that question. He was three years old. I was telling him to do something (I don't remember what). Instead of responding with the worn-out and parent-torturing two-year-old anthem, "No!" he invoked the three-year-old, even more disturbing and existential, "Why?!" Oh no. Now I had to answer him, reason with him, and know things. Of course, I was well-prepared with my best parental response, "Because I said so!" This, of course, didn't work. It just perpetuated a string of "Whys?" Three year olds are not the only ones who repeatedly ask why. Therapists do it too. They call in inference-chaining. The idea is to repeatedly ask the client "Why?" to each subsequent answer about their presenting problem or feelings. This moves them closer and closer to their deeper issues. I think this is also the reason young children ask, "Why?" "Because" isn't the answer they want. They want to go deeper, to learn something they don't know, to explore life's core. "Why?" is a very human question. Beyond being a learning tool and a means to deeper understanding of ourselves, it can also be an existential call for help. "Why me?" "Why them?" "Why not?" "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Very simply, to ask why is to be aware of our desire not just for learning, but for difference or change, to ask for help, to be aware of both opportunity and tragedy. It is to be aware of the divine. In our ability to ask "Why?" we are the universe becoming aware of itself. Sometimes, the answer to "Why?" is neither "Because" nor some deeper insight. Sometimes, the answer is simply, "I don't know," or as Jesus was know for doing, asking a question in return instead of providing an answer. "Why" lives In the realm of uncertainty and discernment. To provide an answer too quickly (despite the child's natural inclination for concreteness) risks disturbing the creative process. Unquestioned answers are far more dangerous than unanswered questions. Investigation, discernment, and creativity take time. Perhaps the best response to the "Whys?" that come our way is, "Why, indeed?"

Rev. Dr. Matt Tittle

Rev. Matt is a Unitarian Universalist minister and author.

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