When I was two years old, “Why?” became my favorite question.
By the time I got to college, the questions had gone from “Why is the sky blue?” to “Why is there something instead of nothing?” So obviously, I majored in Philosophy — I knew I was going to law school, so the subject of my undergraduate degree didn’t matter too much. I had the luxury of choosing based on interest. I minored in Religion so that I could take more Philosophy courses — classes like East Asian Philosophy & Religion counted for both, and I loved to find out why different parts of religious texts exist, the historical contexts that societies evolve around.
Though I’d been told since grade school that I would “make a great lawyer, since you like to argue,” it turns out there’s more to it than that. Still, though I hated the interpersonal networking dance the legal world represents, the dominance games and the horrifying hours, I loved finding out why the law is what it is. Reading the cases — because “hard cases make bad law” — that led to the sometimes Byzantine rules governing our society was a worthwhile experience that I honestly believe has made me a better person.
Now that I teach social studies instead, I love to ask my students “Why?” — “Why do you want to go to the bathroom before you’ve finished your warm-up activity?” or “Why do you think this rule exists?” More relevant to the lesson itself, I often find myself asking students to think critically about the world. I ask questions like, “Why do you think these people in history did that?” or “Why do you think this war happened?” Then, I try to answer them.
But that kind of inquisitiveness isn’t something I can shut off when I leave work; I just start asking different questions. My primary hobby is writing — though I also dance, and play bridge; I ski in the winter and garden the rest of the year — and I’ve found that the most interesting part of the process to be figuring out how all of the pieces will move together. Why would a character do a thing? Why would a society evolve in the way my plot dictates it must? I believe the best novels answer or illuminate fundamental questions about the world.
I also dance, and my favorite part of swing dancing is that moment when I figure out why something isn’t working. When I play bridge, things come together when I finally understand why a particular convention exists — though I’m still forgetful enough to require a cheat sheet. I ski in winter and garden the rest of the year, but for every hobby or habit I have, I know that practical insights save me time and energy, and it’s that ability that gives me a sense of pride.
Now, I’m in my thirties, and have a young son. Hopefully, I’ll keep my excitement about “Why?” when he’s the one demanding explanations.