“Why” is one of the most important questions that anyone can ask, and can continue to ask, in daily living.
The simple three-letter word provides the magnifying glass that looks into why we do what we do, why we say what we say, and why we believe what we believe.
With the demands of modern living, and the exposure to innumerable influences both in person and via your smartphone, it can become extremely easy to get sucked into patterns that come not from ourselves, our own sources of reason, but from external sources.
From the big questions in life to the extremely mundane, we should take the time to stop and ask why we are doing things whenever we can. There is nothing more disappointing than acting and thinking in ways that upon reflection, aren’t authentic to ourselves and are adopted by the society or culture we were born into.
There is nothing more bitter, especially in the spirit of Memento Mori, than realising much of this life was wasted acting from fear and insecurity, rather than love and fulfillment.
Take the example of wanting to put on more muscle. It is a drive that many of us have, and why a lot of us spend countless hours in the gym, counting macros at home and checking the mirror every time we pass one.
Like most young men in the 21st century in the western hemisphere, I also held that goal. I didn’t look how I believed I was supposed to look, and it was a great source of both motivation and misery in equal measure.
It wasn’t until I finally and truly asked “Why do I feel I need to put on more muscle?” that things changed.
Is it for practical purposes? Have I ever struggled to complete an everyday task because I’m not strong enough to do it? Or is it really to cover my insecurities of being perceived as a skinny kid?
Do I have this goal because it is intrinsically important to my wellbeing and the wellbeing of others? Or is it purely a value I have learnt to value because others value it, regardless of how they also have come to value it (also from others)?
Easy, tell-tale tests are always available to see where you are operating from. For this particular example, mine was “What am I doing more often: feeling my body from the inside at every opportunity or checking it out in the mirror from the outside at every opportunity?”
For a long time, it was always the latter. Once I discovered that most of what I was doing was to try and cover a long-held insecurity, it opened the door for two things:
An opportunity to see the insecurity directly and to gradually start letting it go. Rather than spending my life trying to keep it at bay. Dealing it with it at the root rather than trying to sweep it under the carpet.
An opportunity to recalibrate what I do for the right purposes. Based on a place of love for living, rather than fear and insecurity.
This is just one personal example, but there are numerous examples where asking why has revealed some very interesting things about seemingly everyday activities:
Reading lots of books: Am I doing it to become knowledgeable and by extension, socially recognised and perceived as intelligent? Or am I reading the book because it seems to be an interesting book?
Holding an opinion of world events: Am I doing it so I seem like an informed and knowledgeable individual to others? Or am I doing it because I actually have good reason to be invested in the subject and can add positive value to the conversation about it?
Is this coming from a place of insecurity and fear, or from intuition and benevolence?
Do I eat what I eat, act how I act, believe what I believe because I have thought it fully through, or because it is a habit picked up from someone else who hasn’t fully thought it through?
Most of our behaviours, habits and beliefs come from the current behaviours, habits and beliefs of society. And they come from nothing more than a giant game of Chinese whispers.
It is rarely easy to ask and answer why truthfully, but if done frequently, it can break the chain and lead to a much more fulfilling existence.