I love this concept of Why questions on various levels and I want to argue that thinking about communication on various levels can help you understand yourself, others and especially the frequent misunderstandings between human beings.
It is believed that we perceive stimuli (auditory, visual, etc) through various filters: the main two being your current (emotional) state and what you have been occupying yourself with recently.
I think we can relate to this - we know about the "pink glasses" when we are in love and about the increased frequency of something when we are currently involved in a specific subject. For example a friend of mine who was working on lighting of rooms a lot, suddenly only saw lights everywhere.
The maze we call brain
The stimuli then wanders mostly subconsciously through our neural circuits, is evaluated based on these filters and will result in (sub-) conscious thoughts or reactions.
On a good day when you have recently been reading about personal tragedies you walk past a bum. You look at him and think he might fall into that category, besides that you feel like spreading joy. You are not completely broke and feel like he could use some money so you make the decision of giving him a couple of bucks.
Why-Question: Why is he sitting there? Answer: Accident (Influenced by your Filter)
Reaction: Giving him Money (Influenced by your state)
If you had seen a documentary about drunks that lose everything, or if you had a bad day the reaction might have been different.
Layers of reasoning
This was an extreme simplification with just one layer of reasoning, it gets interesting when you go further down the line and add complexity through multiple interpreters:
Smoking, I think is a perfect example:
Smoker: I enjoy smoking
This is often as far as communication goes, because the two obviously disagree.
If you start asking why does he say this, it might look something like this for the non-smoker:
- Know smoking is bad for your health
- Know smokers smell
- Someone who smokes is an idiot
- Know smoking is bad for my health
- Know I will smell bad afterwards
- Will have a disgusting taste in the morning in my mouth
- Have associated smoking with happy times
- Smoking gives me a break from something I hate doing
- Need nicotin
- Smoking is fun and gives me satisfaction
The big issue here is that most of our why questions are answered subconsciously and we often are not aware of them. And if we are not aware of them, we simply project them on people around us. For example it is obvious to me that there should be no difference in rights for men and women and it is one of the things that I base my reasoning on, when it comes to a subject that touches this area. And I project this on other people. It took me a while to figure out that some people still think differently about this issue, which then helped me understand decisions they made.
Influence on teaching
A problem is that we often teach and say things in absolute factual form like: Gender Equality but not the why behind and if we don't do that, misunderstandings start happening. Like the belief that men and women are equal, which is not correct as everyone who had a relationship, or a parent of the other sex should know. It is not that they are equal, but that they should be treated equally.
Explorer of the Whys
What I learned from all of this is that exploring the why's of yourself makes you understand yourself and that knowledge opens up the possibility for change. Even more importantly you can try and explore the why's of other people which you then can try and verify by listening to them.
Why not try being an explorer of the whys?