“Why?” usually drives people into their defenses, whether you ask yourself or someone else. It’s like saying, “You jerk! Defend yourself!”
To explore “How?” or “What?” is better; these simple words direct us to our experience, to what is. They activate our Attention, a closer examination of our actual living and doing.
Early in my training for pastoral care, my supervisor, reviewing verbatim transcripts of my interactions with patients, could show me how I battered myself with the “Why?” question. It got so bad I decided to try to remove it from my vocabulary.
The improvements were almost immediate. For example, if I was late to an appointment, I asked myself “How did this unfold?” “What was the payoff for me to leave so little cushion in my scheduling?”
If a client or patient complained about a spouse, I’d simply ask “How did you respond?” or “What was he doing right before you became angry?” But never, “Why?”
It worked wonders!
The Tale Wagged
In matters of behavior and emotion, “why” seems to encourage intellectualization, and leads away from real events and feelings that a person wants to see and hear more clearly.
Personally, “Why?” sends me on a frantic search for a “silver bullet,” a lone cause for discomfort.
For many, “Why?” triggers almost a panic‑like reaction to make myself safe from an enemy of some kind.
Check it out on yourself.
Yeah, but how do we put it into practice?
Compared to others, this exercise is pretty easy: try dispensing with the “Why?” question, both in your self‑talk and in your conversations with others.
Notice the ways you must rephrase any question when you set aside this tiny little word, “Why?”
Notice if other people, too, seem to grow more comfortable when you’ve banished it.