What distinguishes us from other animals, whether a spider or the dog we share our house with, is our ability to constantly ask why. Animals, like us, feel and think, dream and create; but, only humans have the great potential to question such reasoning, feelings, dreams, and creations. As a result of our persistent questioning of the world around us, we have made unprecedented progress. To put it mildly, it is the question of why that drives our innate curiosity, serving as the foundation for everything we collectively or individually perceive to be true.
It is the conclusions we have made by wondering why things work the way they do or why things exist that have led to ideological differences and, with them, disputes that have resulted in war or simple splits in personal relationships. We favor those who agree with us about why things work the way they do and reject those who find a different explanation to ours. The answers we get when we question why shape our identity, beliefs, and how we interact with others.
More importantly, the Why serves as a daily reminder that no matter how far we go or how much our intellectual talents develop, we are not omnipotent. The Why is the driving force behind the never-ending circle of uncertainty, demonstrating that when we find an answer, we are inevitably confronted with millions of new questions. Every time we ask a question and wonder why, we embrace human ignorance and hand doubt the wheel.
The Why humbles us. It shows how fragile we are — for if we lose the Why, we lose our very purpose of living. We lose our desire to construct, create, think, and feel; after all, human beings are unable to exist in a state of mind where questions are not posed, doubts do not exist, and everything is accepted as true without a second look. To be human is to ask why, to venture into the unknown, and to ponder even the most minor details, such as why birds chirp in the morning and why sorrow is inescapable.
Asking why is what keeps us alive. It does so literally, like when our ancestors discovered fire by wondering why sparks occurred when two rocks were smashed together. Or when we were able to develop the systems underlying airplanes by asking why birds could fly. But what’s more astounding is that it keeps us alive in spirit; consider all religions, from modern science to Catholicism, that were formed with the sole aim of figuring out why things work the way they do. Indeed, asking why all the time is what provides us comfort by transforming the unknown into the familiar.
That being said, the human desire to wonder why is also the source of life’s everlasting frustration – what prevents us from living in peace, unbothered, and unafraid. It is the conduit via which anxiety, despair, and pain emerge, sending our minds into a never-ending spiral as we try to figure out why our brain functions the way it does, why things hurt the way they do, and why people treat us the way they do. So powerful is the why and so imprinted in our brain code that it appears even when it is unwanted; citing a favorite singer of mine, ‘’sometimes by not asking a question is how we obtain an answer.’’
The Why is the keeper of history, the past’s accountant. It draws new inferences from existing knowledge and events; it acts as a blueprint for judging new settings and as a formula for solving new challenges that occur with the passage of time. The Why is the compass we use to navigate the unknown, providing us with the tools we need to adapt to change, assign value to things, and establish a rationale for the existence of what we observe.
Why are we still alive? Why is the sky blue? Why do cats imitate sounds? Why is 2+2 equal to 4? Why does racism exist? Endless queries intended to provide clarity and peace. Intended for the construction of ideologies, views, laws, governments, and scientific explanations. Questions that mean to separate us into sub-groups or bring us all together. Doubts raised with the purpose of challenging prevailing beliefs to open the way for new ways of living, all while providing a cause for us to exist, to wonder, to study, discover, and educate.
Featured image by: Ann H / Pexels