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The Curious “Why?”

Creative Commons License photo credit: Stefan Baudy

The Curious “Why?” is different from the Judgmental “Why?”.

The Judgmental “Why?” is used when someone wants to differentiate between what you are doing and what they would be doing if they were in your situation.  With the implication, of course, that the way that they would be doing it is better, and, in fact, you would be much better off if you stopped what you were doing right now and did it their way.

This Judgmental “Why?” is the reason why many people shy away from asking “Why?” too much, especially of themselves.  They don’t know that there is another “Why?” out there just waiting to be used.

The Curious “Why?” is a totally different breed of question.  The Curious “Why?” does not aim to judge, but aims to gather more knowledge.

And, it’s perfect for gathering more knowledge about yourself and the world you live in.

If you can become better acquainted with the Curious “Why?” a whole world of knowledge opens up to you.  This “Why?” can be your best friend, and not a critical parent.

The next time you feel the word “Why?” about to form in your mouth, make sure you have grabbed the right one.  The Judgmental “Why?” will want to burst right through your teeth, but the Curious “Why” will be waiting patiently for you to give it the sign.

Choose wisely.

Anything to add or share?  Please do in the comments.  🙂

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  1. Thanks for an insightful post. I find that sometimes one why is mistaken for the other. I like “Tell me more about…” or “Help me understand why…”

  2. Nice distinction, Amanda.

    It’s interesting that people sometimes hear ‘why’ as a ‘Judgmental’ why, even though you meant it as a ‘Curious’ why. It’s like there’s some kind of overall negative association with the word ‘why’.

    Interestingly, as a professional facilitator, I rarely use ‘why’ when running groups. For example: ‘Why do you say that?’ becomes ‘What makes you say that?’ ‘Why is that a problem? becomes ‘What makes that a problem?’ etc

    Just semantics, but I like to keep a totally positive and constructive flow so need to minimize any potential friction.

    Best to you, Robin 🙂

  3. Great distinction, Amanda. Sometimes “why” questions get on my nerves. I have a good friend who can be a little like a two-year-old: why? why? why? In grad school we were taught to use “why” questions very judiciously if at all, but lately I have come to realize that there are times when they are really the best way to go and they elicit just the right insight that helps people go deeper.

  4. p.s. Oh. I just remembered my blog title starts with “Why?” I guess they don’t get on my nerves too much after all!

  5. I’m not much of a why person. Most of the time, knowing why doesn’t matter and asking it is just buying time so we don’t have to answer questions like, What now?

    I think “compared to what?” is the question I used most. People are always saying this is good or this is bad and my first thing that pops into my head is “compared to what?” It’s gives me perspective.

  6. Joana Joana

    Why? is one of my favorite questions because I’m interested in why and how someone experiences things, whether they be physical, spiritual, or psychological, but I’ve run into some of the same situations where my “curious/genuinely interested why” is taken as a judgmental why. I’ve done what Meg at Demanding Joy has done: add additional wording to clarify what it is I’m interested in. That seems to diffuse the possible misunderstanding of “judgmental why”. I’ve been asking why? since I was a small child, to the point where, according to my mom, she finally said the often-repeated anecdote “Please stop saying “why” all the time!” to which my 4-year-old self asked, “Why, mommy?” LOL

  7. Amanda Linehan Amanda Linehan

    Hi Jarrod – Six of one, half dozen of the other, I guess. 🙂

    Hi Meg – Yeah, those are good alternatives. It’s funny though, because it really asks the same question.

    Hi Robin – I think “Why?” does have a negative connotation, which is a little odd, really. 🙂

    Hi Patty – One thing I’m picking up on in the comments is that there is a general negative connotation with the word “Why?” Although, it really is necessary sometimes, your blog title being a good example.

    Hi Corin – Your comment makes me think that everyone has their own question by which they get to the heart of the matter. It’s interesting that I can like “Why?” so much and you would much rather prefer “compared to what?” I guess we all have our own methods.

    Hi Joana – Your comment reinforces what some of the others also said. “Why?” often needs to be qualified to use it well!

  8. Hi Amanda — thanks for this — it would be wonderful, I think, if we could all let go of a lot of the conditioning that has people’s curiosity about us seem like an attack.

  9. Hey Amanda – I just found your blog recently and I found this post made me really consider myself and my use of the word “Why?” I think I’m guilty of using the judgemental why far more frequently than the curious why – at least I think I come across that way. I’ll be far more conscious of it now!

  10. Amanda Linehan Amanda Linehan

    Hi Chris – Yes, poor “Why?” has gotten a bad rap. 🙂

    Hi Eran – It’s not always so obvious how we’ve been using “Why?”. But all in all, I think curiosity and “Why?” are good things. Thanks for stopping by!

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