A Dearth of Why

Ah, there’s your problem…not enough why. How do we find out information? We ask questions. Everyone knows there are a few words that we use to ask those questions.

The above chart was generated by Google and shown on a website called “Information is beautiful.” This chart show the percentage of occurances of those four words in about 5 million books published in the last 200 years. “When” looks pretty popular, with “What” not too far behind. “How” comes in at third, but there, at rock bottom, languishing, is poor “Why.”
“Okay, so what?” you say.
Have you ever thought about how those four different words frame a question? “What”, “How” and “When” are all similar in nature. They tell us identity, time and the nature of  a person, place or thing. The answers to these questions can tell us much. By that last one, the one at the bottom of the chart, the one that gets asked the least…that little opener is an entirely different animal. “Why” aims to find purpose, “Why” aims to find reason. “Why” wants to know the cause of the housefire, the reason for the crime spree. We use “Why” to bring sanity into a scary world.
But “Why” is even more noble than that. This little three letter word sparks our curiosity, it prompts us to learn, to understand the world around us. And when we change it just a little bit more: “why not” becomes a challenge, a test to change the status quo, to make and achieve goals, to make the world a better place.

Never stop asking questions. It’s the only way we learn. But next time you ask a question, don’t reach for the same old tired “what”, “when”, “how”, or even “who”. Next time, reach down and pull out that one that hardly ever gets used…”Why”.

It’s the most important question in the world.

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2 Responses to A Dearth of Why

  1. Draven Ames says:

    Yet so few ever ask why.

    Great post. Why is probably hardly used because the answer would be telling, and we have to show. The question, we hope, is on the readers lips. Hopefully we have shown why without our entire book.

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