Don’t Ask Why, Ask Why Not

woman in pink button up shirt holding smartphone

“Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.” –Pablo Picasso  

Many people might think of Picasso as the man who looked at the world as if it were a kaleidoscope and thought, “Why not make it even more twisted?” But, he’s also the guy who famously said, “Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.” I believe that Picasso was ahead of his time in more than just his art; for me, this quote sums up his whole way of thinking.

So, here I am, trying to live with this Picasso-esque worldview, with the question ‘why not?’ being my daily mantra. It involves living in a perpetual state of curiosity, and who doesn’t love a good mystery?I always like to think about things in terms of potential. Therefore, it makes sense to my mind to project my thoughts towards making the future better. Unfortunately, this way of thinking seems foreign to most people I meet.

When a friend or family member will sit me down and try to tell me how something is the way it is, I ask them ”Why not?” Most times, people won’t have a good explanation for why they believe what they do. Yet, their response is practically “How dare you ask why it isn’t a different way!” Perhaps, it’s simply my curious nature that leads me to asking too many questions. Yes, I do ask too many, but it’s fine to do so if you’re asking quality questions that force people to answer intelligently. 

So, when I read this Picasso quote, I realized that while “why not” is an incredibly simple question, it’s also one of the most effective in sating curiosity. It forces others to criticize what they may otherwise take for granted. Yet, if you ask most people “why not” when they say something that seems ridiculous to you, many people will either just walk away, scoff at you, or worse, lecture you about sticking your nose down too many rabbit holes. 

I think this illogical reaction to such a basic question is a form of learned intellectual laziness. People love to explain how things are, but rarely dive into why they can’t be different. It’s like being stuck in a culinary rut, eating the same sandwich every day because, well, it’s a sandwich. But once you ask, “why not consider eating a sandwich without bread,” it’s suddenly mind-blowing to most people that you’d ever consider romaine lettuce as a carbohydrate plane replacement. That’s the ‘why not?’ attitude, and yet, so few people dare to adopt it.

As I’ve grown older, I find so many more people in our world simply accepting things at face value. It seems particularly odd in a society where we are surrounded with information technology which offers us a veritable buffet of information at our fingertips. Why would so many people choose the boring option, chomping down on the same old ideas perpetuated by family, friends, and coworkers?

I’ve watched most people I went to school with and other loved ones become like automated vacuum cleaners, going in circles, sucking up the same old dust.It’s high time we start asking ‘why not?’ and explore less trodden paths of thought. We all need to sprinkle a little bit of ‘why not?’ into our daily reasoning. It’s like adding hot sauce to your morning eggs – it might be a bit uncomfortable at first for the uninitiated, but what flavor it brings!

I believe the main issue is that there’s simply too much information. As our convenience to information grows daily, people naturally want to find a way to narrow down what’s coming in to a bare minimum. What’s happened is we’ve allowed commercial media interests to take advantage of this narrowing of focus. 

Because of this, we’re being programmed to think and respond in the patterns that make us good consumers and yes-people. Some of us even recognize it and complain about it, yet keep buying into it! Along the way, our creative, critical thinking, and positive reasoning skills are being stifled.

Too many people limit their understanding of the ‘why’ of how things work because a simple explanation, no matter how wrong it is, becomes like a cozy blanket we’ve had since childhood. It’s comforting, sure, but all it does is make us comatose. So, when someone like me comes along asking ‘why not,’ I feel like I’m shoving them into a cold pool on a hot day. It’s shocking but exhilarating. It should make you ponder and question your deeply ingrained ideas, replacing them with ideas so wild they could only come from a mind that dares to question the status quo. Suffice it to say, I don’t ever get invited to pool parties anymore.

Remember, the world’s knowledge isn’t a stagnant pond. It’s a river that’s constantly flowing and changing. Yet, how we perceive history is like a game of telephone; what started as one thing often ends up as something entirely different. It’s also subject to being intercepted and coerced by one agenda or another, no matter what the basis of their intentions. So, when someone tells you ‘why,’ you must take it with a grain of salt, and in many cases, perhaps even a whole salt shaker.

The hard truth is nothing changes for the better unless you suggest an alternative that’s both workable and positive. The problem is people oftentimes don’t understand why a thing is the way it is in the first place. But, there’s nothing wrong with presupposing that something could be another way before understanding why something is how it is. This is because human reasoning is being used; that’s an activity that should be encouraged. 

But, common knowledge is not exactly accurate. There’s plenty to be questioned that’s often assumed to be fact. So, by stifling any sort of inspired reasoning, you’re missing out on potential new ideas or concepts that could benefit both yourself and many others. Certainly, the facts are all out there to be found. But, people are so busy asking ‘why’ and accepting often incomplete, inaccurate answers. 

Instead, if you ask ‘why not’ something could be a different way, that actually forces someone to reason through something for themselves. This is an extremely uncomfortable feeling for most people and leads to a lot of lost connections. But, I’ve found that anyone who simply accepts what they’re given blindly isn’t something that will lead to a productive relationship anyway, sad as that is.

People should be taught to ask “why not” instead of simply asking “why” and taking the response as gospel. Unfortunately, a lot of things in society would have to change for that to happen. People should have to figure things out for themselves, not simply have things explained to them. Certainly, the person answering the “why?” may not intentionally be doing anything wrong. But, their explanation will rarely be enough to give the asker a true understanding of what’s being asked.

I’ve found myself having to critically question every answer I’m given. This doesn’t mean becoming cynical about everything. Yet, sadly, my own cynicism has rapidly grown in this world full of so much open dialogue and overflowing cornucopias of information. 

But, rather than get dragged down on the “whys” of how things are, the only way to get out of this rut is to simply ask ‘why not’, instead of just ‘why.’  You must force yourself to seek out more meaningful answers on your own.

Now, here’s some actionable advice: Start your day with a ‘why not?’ It’s like a form of mental yoga, stretching your brain in new ways. Today, question one thing you’ve always accepted. Tomorrow, do it again with another perceived truth of yours, but this time, be more critical. Then, on the day after, start doing this as a habit. You’ll soon find yourself on a journey of intellectual discovery that’s more thrilling than any roller coaster.

So, embrace your inner Picasso. Look at the world not just for what it is, but for what it could be. Who knows, you might just come up with the next big thing – or at least, a new way to make your morning coffee. And isn’t improving upon your daily caffeine fix a thought worth pursuing?

~ Amelia Desertsong

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.

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