I’m not talking about Hamlet’s existential crisis. I am, however, referring to one of the most basic questions in the universe. A simple, Why?
Why, Mommy? I’m fairly sure this was my first question. I’m also fairly sure that I abused it. My curiosity was, and still is, extreme. I want to know how and why things work. If I see a good movie, I follow up and research the topic until I think I have a good handle on the facts, the speculations, the lore. After reading The Other Boleyn Girl, I spent nine hours researching Henry VIII and his wives. And the Tudors. And Queen Elizabeth. And Mary Scots.
When we’re younger, we use Why to explore and understand our world. But as we grow older, Why seems to take on new meaning. It becomes the default setting, the knee jerk response to anything new and unknown, scary or simply annoying. With adulthood, Why evolves into a challenge and a dismissal. I can’t blame Why; it can be a perfectly good question. When the status quo is working just fine, why bother?
One of my favorite videos on the interwebs is called This is Water. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend not infrequent viewings to remind oneself that we are more than our default setting. The video is set to a well-known graduation speech given by Author David Foster Wallace, and follows your typical Millennial through what can arguably be called the ninth circle of hell: food shopping, after work, during rush hour. My favorite part about this whole setup? It reminds me to just consider, for a moment, before I lose my mind at the utter stupidity of the world around me, that everyone else is in the same boat. And more importantly, to consider that the lady in front of me failing miserably to control her child may just be the angel from the phone company who just yesterday took pity on me and my phone bill. And further, that the possible reason she is having trouble with her son is because he’s going through a rough phase after his father’s recent abandonment. These things are unlikely. But, I remind myself that I have the intellectual capacity to give the benefit of the doubt to my fellow humans in the ninth circle of hell.
So back to Why. A couple of years ago, I was traveling overseas and met with a colleague of mine. She boiled humanity down to one very simple phrase. She said, “There are those of us who ask Why?, and those of us who ask Why not?” Mind. Blown. Intrinsically, I understood this. However, this was the first time it had been voiced so simply and eloquently to me.
There are those of us who are still open to new possibilities and who do not immediately reject any notion which may involve a little more. More research, more effort, more compassion. I can say with complete honesty, I am definitely a Default Setting kind of person. I wish it came easier to me. I really do. There are days when I lack the patience or motivation to ask Why not? But far more frequently, I remember to pause. Pause when someone suggests a method or idea I hadn’t considered. Pause when a friend invites me halfway across the world for a long weekend of fun. Hell, pause when a friend invites me fifteen miles away for a drink. (The introvert in me really needs to pause on that one.) I pause when someone asks for something that initially sounds completely preposterous.
What do we get when we pause? We may change our minds about the “right” way to do things. We may experience food and culture and arts that would have otherwise been too costly or time-consuming to explore. We may catch up with good friends over bottomless mimosas which will somehow lead to a new opportunity in life. We may discover that a request which seems silly or selfish at first glance, is actually quite easy to fulfill and may carry unimaginable meaning to someone else.
If, like me, you need a nudge every once in a while–or daily–to be the type of person who asks Why not? instead of Why? then remind yourself! The power of mindful thinking. If you’re not into mindful thinking, then this video will do the trick.
Choose your response to life.