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One of the things I love most about children is their curiosity. They always want to know how things work, what that object is, who’s that, and every parent’s favorite question, when will we get there. They want to know, to understand, and to figure out. But the one they ask that’s most important is why.

Why do I have to go to bed? Why do we go to school? Why do we do it that way? Kids don’t accept the way things are. They don’t get why they have to do things a certain way or follow these rules or go to bed at a certain time.

Clearly, part of it is a lack of understanding. They don’t know that eating a whole pint of ice cream is bad for them, or that learning to read and write is important. But the important thing is that they want to know. They want to understand. They want to figure out the way things work, why we do what we do, so they establish if they want to follow along or rebel (usually in the form of crying or loud, obnoxious, complaining).

Too often, as we grow older, go through school, and start working, we stop asking questions. It’s easier to just accept the way things are and not question. It’s safer to keep your head down and go through the motions. In a sense, we become institutionalized: we consent to the structures and systems of society.

We can definitely learn from kids here. We need to cultivate that childlike curiosity. In short, we need to start asking why? Why, you ask (see what I did there)? Because many things in life are arbitrary. It may have made sense to follow this procedure or do it this way at some point, but life changes. Consider two examples, the work day and school testing. Most people accept the idea of a 9-5 job, but it’s quite arbitrary now. But why not 12-8? Or 7-3? There’s no reason why you couldn’t be productive during those hours (I know that there are circumstances where it is important to work at certain times, but this is a general point). As for school testing, it’s just accepted by many that the best way to test knowledge is to give a multiple choice test? But why not a verbal exam? Or any other variety (for the record, even though I’m good at taking them, I think multiple choice tests are a terrible indicator of intelligence. It only indicates how good a kid is at memorizing a bunch of information).

My point is this: don’t just accept things as they come. Question why. Why should we do it this way? Why should I work this job? Why should I follow this rule? If you find out and you agree, then by all means keep following. I’m not saying down with the establishment and revolt against everything. On the contrary, there are arbitrary procedures we should follow, like in America, driving on the right side of the road. There’s no reason we couldn’t drive on the left and still get around fine; look at the UK. While driving on the right may be arbitrary, there’s going to be problems if some start driving on the left.

But if you don’t agree, then change course. I asked myself why we wait at red lights that take forever to change, even if no one is remotely in sight. It’s crazy. We’ll sit and wait minutes to go once the light turns green, even though it would be perfectly safe to do so before. The light to turn left into my parent’s street is that way. It can be late at night and no cars are on the road and you can easily wait 2 minutes. That’s dumb. So I changed course. Now if I’m sitting at a red light, I check closely to make sure there are no cars coming, and if there aren’t, I go.

Someone probably disagrees and says that’s not right, that I should follow the law. Well the law was designed to keep us safe. If no one is around and I go, I’m still safe. My thoughts and actions are governed by guidelines and principles, not rules.

So ask why. It will open your eyes and you can better navigate the world. You’ll stop accepting life as it’s handed to you, start taking control, and doing things that matter.


Image: Mouse and macwagen

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