Kids can be so annoying
Recently, I got to hold my grandson, Emmett, shortly after his birth. As I was looking into his little face while he slept, I thought about how absolutely beautiful he is with his tiny features and more hair than I’ve seen on my head in 15 years. It occurred to me that life really couldn’t be any more straightforward or simple.
As I looked into Emmett’s face, I suddenly realized he literally knew NOTHING, and it was only a matter of time until he started asking the most annoying question that a child could ask––“why?”
I imagined our conversation would go something like this. “Grandpa, why is grass green?” “Well Emmett, the green color allows plants like grass to help us breathe.” “Why?” “The green color is created by something called chlorophyll.” “Why?” “Well, chlorophyll is used during photosynthesis.” “Why?” “Photosynthesis allows plants to use sunlight to turn carbon dioxide and water into sugar, which the plant needs to live.” “Why?” “Well, when you breathe, you breathe out carbon dioxide which is poison to us, but the grass likes it and uses it to survive.” “Why?” “So we don’t die.” Long pause. “Grandpa, why is the sky blue?” Sigh. “Ask your mother.”
Although it can be frustrating to get the third degree about things we as adults might think are random (and if you’re a parent, you know exactly what I’m talking about), this is exactly how children learn, answer questions, and solve problems. This is how they begin to understand the world by making connections and sticking things together in ways that make sense to them. This is why children are so creative.
In the 1988 movie Big, Tom Hanks played a 12-year old boy named Josh who made a wish he was an adult. When he awoke the next morning, he had an adult body (played by Hanks) but his mind was still that of a 12-year old. He ultimately found himself working for the development department of a toy manufacturer. Unlike the adults who worked with him, he couldn't help but constantly ask “why?” That question not only caused the company to see great success, it caused the president of the company to show his pleasure with Josh while the other adults at the company took notice (and some became very annoyed).
Unfortunately, asking “why” is also how children learn the rules in life that ultimately kill the questioning that helped them be so creative in the first place. It’s rules like:
“Sit still and behave.”
“Don’t color outside of the lines.”
“That’s not how it’s supposed to be done.”
“There is no such thing.”
“Do it this way.”
It was one of those rules 45 years ago that put me on the path to writing Beware the Purple People Eaters. My first grade teacher told me to stop using a purple crayon to color people and instead use a “proper” one.
As we age, asking “why” is discouraged, and over time people stop asking it, conform, and deal with the daily grind of their lives. Ironically, though, whenever we learn about a cool new product or great idea, this is exactly what the people behind them are doing––asking “why” just like a child. By repeatedly asking “why” we can get to the core of a problem or situation and true creativity can occur.
I once knew a chiropractor who was not only a professor at the Palmer College of Chiropractic, he was a master at asking “why?” He told me a story about a patient who came into his office complaining of having constant headaches. When he asked “why,” he found the headaches were a symptom of a shifted spinal column which was pinching some nerves.
When he asked “why” again, he found the shift in the spinal column was caused by an unconscious, natural adjustment in how the patient walked in order to compensate for having one leg slightly longer than the other. After being fitted for shoes with a built-in lift on the short side, he began to walk normally and the headaches disappeared. Most people today would have just handed him a bottle of ibuprofen, but it wouldn’t have solved the problem. Instead, he kept asking “why” until he got to the root cause of the problem.
Perhaps it’s time we stop acting like “adults” and start acting like 12-year old kids. Maybe it’s time to start asking “why?” more frequently. People might think you’re a little annoying, but remember that the intent is to be more creative and strive for better results.
Practice Challenge: For the next week, ask “why?” about everything in your life. The answers may surprise you. Some inquiries (perhaps most of them) may end after the first answer. However, you may find yourself asking “why?” again and again until some long-term issue or problem gets resolved.
©2014 Anthony D. Paustian