Why / How

Write a short profile on each other, I said to my students, dividing them into groups of two. What is your angle; what is interesting to you about this other person? Make this a conversational voyage of discovery. How can we get to know this person in greater depth by the end of your profile story? Why should we care? Not just by asking a collection of facts, trivia, and biographic questions, but through a series of conversational questions that allow us to really learn more about what makes this person tick...

A person is more than the sum of their birthdate, gender, style esthetic, music preferences, and Facebook friends forum.

One young gentleman was disgruntled at being pushed to articulate questions more targeted and specific than,

What school did you go to before here? and What sports do you play?

How does asking somebody what sports they play help us get to know them? I ask. It certainly gives us information about them...but does it help to really get to know them - what makes them a unique individual?

There are always different ways to divide up people's "lens for viewing the world." Left brain/Right brain. Pragmatist/Idealist. Conservative/Progressive. Jennifer/Angelina.

I like to think in terms of How and Why. There are How questions concerned with concrete process and procedures and appropriate methods for approaching a task. And there are Why questions that are concerned with motivation and inquiries into people's reasons for making the choices they do. 

What show do you prefer: CSI or The Mentalist? 

Which one is the How program? Which one is focused on the Why? What are your other favourite television programs - which ones, at their heart, are focused on Process and which ones are focused on Motivation? A simplistic query. But try dividing them into one of those two areas...

If How is the Craft, then Why is the Art. They coexist. Ideally, they complement each other. But there is frequently a brutal prejudice in favour of How-type questions, particularly in raising and teaching children. Sometimes, it's a lot easier to teach somebody How to do something then to explain precisely Why they should do it in the first place.
I hate - hate - when people ask questions about Magdelana such as, 

"Has she gotten to the dreaded 'Why' stage' yet?"

I hate it. One of the things I love about Childhood is that in those early years, before you are indoctrinated too deeply in the way you're supposed  to do things, you simply ask Why-questions because you want to know. It's not a disrespect thing. It's simply a desire to know; an evolving of character and logic that is too-often shut down because Why-questions are frequently difficult to answer.

I often don't have good answers to Why questions. Why questions should be conversation-starters; they begin a dialogue of back-and-forth discovery. Why questions may lead to a better How in the end. They frequently raise the question of whether there is need for a better How. 

Why questions are disruptive, just as radical types of innovation are disruptive. That is why certain types of people loathe Why question-askers so much - they disrupt accepted conventions and ways of doing things. They question the givens.
Regardless of what subject I am teaching - Photography, Art, Filmmaking, Creative Nonfiction - the core important ideas share a common DNA with the ideas important to me as a parent. Atop the list is a desire to push our students and children to look beyond the surface of what they see...to ask Why-questions and to not apologize for asking them in a respectful, inquisitive manner. 

The right to ask a respectful question begins at birth. 

And also...

* To embrace the right to ask Why; to develop the self-respect to raise your voice in any circumstance and have the confidence to ask a Why question of Anyone.

* To look past the surface qualities of a photograph or work of art and try to interpret and understand what it represents.

* To articulate in specific terms what is beautiful and unique in anyone and anything...and to connect the relationship between Uniqueness and Beauty.

* To move past "It's good/awesome" and "It's bad/lame" evaluations. Develop a recognition of those microdetails that make something unique. Articulate your preferences and opinions.

* To look for Patterns and Structure and Meaning in the Mundane.

* To find the Good in People and the Great in Life.


People are more interesting than they oftentimes give themselves credit for. Especially when you start looking for the details and patterns in their lives...

Anyone can learn how to edit a video. So why don't more people make interesting movies? Because learning the How doesn't automatically mean you've got something interesting to say. It's asking Why questions that get you to the interesting stuff. And those are the people that make the great Art, that make the great Films, that make the great Music, and that search for answers to questions such as What can Science and Technology do to make our lives better? Those Why questions are at the heart of every great inquiry, whether originating from a three-year old child or from a 60-year old scientist.

Why do I have to go to bed now, Daddy? Why? Why? Why am I supposed to go to bed now?

Well dear, I say. Umm, it's because the scientists say that's what you're supposed to do in order to be healthy.


And also, because I SAID SO, you little pill! And the Narnian monsters are going to get you if you don't hop in bed RIGHT NOW! Aahhh! Roarrrrrr!

And I tackle her, and toss her in bed, and the giggling is loud.

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