My late father told me a story a long time ago from a long time ago. He was a Rhodes scholar selected from his school in Cape Town in the early 1930’s. At that time, Rhodes scholars at Oxford typically read PPE, Philosophy, Politics and Economics. They were sitting their Philosophy exam in Brasenose College. The exam paper was put before them. On it was one question.


I remember my father saying that the students were writing away furiously, filling up their papers with all sorts of explanatory answers within the 3 hours allocated. One student thought for about 5 minutes, wrote down his answer in a second or two, lay down his pen and left the examination room. His answer was –

Why not?

That pupil got full marks.

Well, I think it’s a lovely story and something I think about from time to time in one way or another. It expresses a deeply interesting philosophical, if perplexing question. It requires a sort of justification or explanation as to e.g. why did this happen? – and to further questioning e.g. what is the cause of this? What is the meaning behind this? How can I understand this? Why me? I think of Job remaining steadfast in his wrestling with God.

The whirlpool of why’s are never ending, and yet I believe it is important to never stop asking why. We may never have any final answers to our questions much as we want them. The answers remain a mystery and perhaps sometimes this is how it should be.

In a previous post, my friend on the Internet, Van, commented last night on my ‘Tree’ post, 3 back. I have his permission to quote him. He wrote that squirrels bury the Oak’s ‘…acorns in the ground in order to have food in the winter. But they never go back to get them all. In fact, most of those acorns hidden in the ground have a better chance of becoming oak trees than dinner for a squirrel. Maybe the squirrels can remind mankind of a way long forgotten before it became practice to consume more than what is replenished. Besides conservation, the squirrels and the oak trees offer to teach us the value of cooperation’.

Can we learn something of value from this? Why not? But I am asking this question in a positive if rhetorical way ie. why not observe and reflect on all we observe all about us. See the reflection in the mirror, in a lake of the trees, the birds, the sky, ourselves. Why not learn from our relationships? Why does the same pattern keep on repeating itself? Why not keeping on asking those questions, why? and why not?

32 Comments on W : WHY?

  1. ‘The whirlpool of why’s’ reminds me of some graffiti I saw once… “Question everything.” and underneath it “Why?” I love the squirrel story lesson too

  2. I think if we stop asking why, we’ve come to the end of the line. Curiosity, wonderment, joy in NOT knowing everything, these are what help keep life interesting. Thanks for the beautiful post.

    • Thank you so much Lisa. I agree not knowing everything and allowing the mystery of the unknown is what makes life interesting.
      Thank you so much.

  3. My question from my granddaughters is “Why do we have to go home today? Can’t we stay and play longer?” I have a wide variety of responses to that “WHY” question. So much for my “deep” thinking today. However, I love your post. There are so many “WHYS” in the world. Like Why didn’t God give grandma the energy to keep up with her munchkins? Thank you!

    • Ha ha Gwynn! Did you ask God why He didn’t give you more energy to keep up? Drink plenty water, keep smiling, and keep answering the munchkins questions as best you can; and allow yourself a wonderful blissful sleep at the end of the day, knowing you’ve brought joy into these little ones lives.

  4. Hi, Susan. This reminds me of John Lennon’s story of his first meeting Yoko Ono, I think at a gallery showing of hers in London or New York. There was a piece, if I remember correctly, where he had to climb a ladder and look through a peephole, and the object on the other side was simply the word YES in large block letters. He said if the word had been NO, he’d probably have never bothered getting to know her.

    What that has to do with your point of questioning and answering ourselves I don’t know, but you know how one thing can lead to another.

    I’m glad you mentioned Job wrestling with God. So many of us think our relationship to God must be one of passive, unquestioning obedience, but it was once pointed out to me how many heroes of the Bible wrestled with God. Jacob did it (literally), Moses did it, Jonah did it, Job did it, Peter and Paul did it, even Jesus did it. We are His children and his chest is big enough for us to beat on in hurt and bewilderment and grief.

    Great post.

    • Hi Jer and thanks so much for commenting and your lovely response. The story of John Lennon climbing the ladder reminds me of Jacob and the ladder with the YES ‘on the other side’. One thing leads to another as you say!

      And thanks also for mentioning the other Biblical heroes who wrestled with God and adding ‘We are His children and his chest is big enough for us to beat on in hurt and bewilderment and grief’. (I hope many others come back to read this – but of course, this may not happen). But your words are comforting thank you.

  5. This is a comment I received from Evan Hodge below, who did not respond directly onto this blog, but with his permission I copied it and pasted it. Ideally it should appear as from him, but I wasn’t able to manage this. Nevertheless it is such a lovely response and I wanted it on here as well.

    Evan Hodge (Observe, listen and act) wrote:

    “That story of your Father’s is perfect, Susan, and your response as beautiful and fitting. “Why?” seems the last question most people want to bother with, yet it is the doorway to all we know. Looking inward, it is devastating question, because of the honesty it demands. If the unexamined life is not worth living, I feel many moderns consider the examined life to be a form of hell. But the courage to look is the reward of secure understanding and maturity. It also is the source of compassion, without which we are not human but something else and stunted. Thank you, good thoughts.”

    • Thank you so much Evan for your thoughtful response. I love this quote by Socrates ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’ so thank you for using it. It reminds me of the quote from the Talmud: ‘An unexamined dream is like an unopened letter’.

      I really appreciate your comment, thank you again.

  6. Hi,

    I love this post. The why not runs throughout the lives of mankind. We constantly make the same mistakes because we don’t look back at the past. Why not? To be quite honest, I really don’t know. If we did study the past many of the habits that we have formed would no longer be able to live within us.


    • Thank you so much Patricia! We can never stop learning – looking backwards, in the present and forwards. Quite a quick step that may keep us from getting stuck in the quicksand!

      Shalom and may your weekend be blessed and restful.

  7. The older I get, the more I try to approach life’s confusions and conflicts with curiosity rather than impatience, irritation or hurt. As you say, why not learn from our relationships? Why not negotiate them with curiosity instead of blame or outrage or bitterness? What is there to lose in *asking* why instead of telling why?

    Another thoughtful, insightful post. Thank you, Susan, for always making me think a little more deeply.

    • Thank you so much Kern for your thoughtful response and what a lovely approach of curiosity instead of blame, outrage etc. It would work both ways in e.g. relationships each seeking to ‘know’ the other better, and our own selves in the process .. or the other way around.

      Have a lovely weekend!

  8. Susan,

    The eternal questions always lurk, fishing for answers from us. I’m a fan of this particular brand of philosophical wordplay and it’s so enjoyable to see you present it in such an erudite fashion.

    The notion about conserving resources is especially amusing given that squirrels do not dig up most of the nuts they bury for the simple reason that they never really remember where they buried them in the first place — a fact that has long been confirmed by animal behaviorists. While amusing in and of itself, it still does not detract from the delightful insights pointed out by your text.

    Thank you for a wonderful read, yet again.

    • Thank you so much Michael! If indeed they are forgetful, I guess new oaks grow where they’ve been forgotten. Some though store them in piles and these dry out and don’t take root.

      I appreciate your stopping by, thank you again and have a great weekend!

  9. My 8th grade science teacher told us a similar story. Although, in her version, the student to ace the test answered “because”. Makes the same point.

    • Thanks Liz … neat answer ‘because’ – though it rather brings things to a standstill! I would ask WHY because! Reminds me of the parents’ answer when challenged by their offspring, Because, I say so! Stop asking questions! Just because! A bit limiting?

  10. Definitely food for thought here Susan. There usually is, but this post really got my mind working. Thank you for throwing this out there.

  11. What a complete answer to why, with its opposite, why not. How the range includes and fills the vacuum. Each letter adds to the other, like the connection between people and within the psyche. Thank you again for stirring the ether of our minds and our souls.

    • Thank you so much Susan. I appreciate this so much and you say it so well about the connection ‘between people and within the psyche’. Between and within .. I can sense the energy in that .. Thank you!

  12. Questions are the bones for a writer and the answers provided the meat. I enjoy the hunt for the answers because it’s almost like a game. I stay a way from questions that are judgemental like “Why me Lord?” Those really have no viable answer, at least one that is satisfying.

    It’s funny, when reading your post, my answer to the question on the exam was, “Why, indeed” and then I laughed and then said “Why not?” And laughed again when I continued on with your story.

    Questioning is a trait children have. They’re full of wonder of the world. When we stop asking questions it’s like saying we have closed off and have no need to wonder any more.

    Susan, another thought provoking post. I want to say thank you not only for the post, but also for your presence in my life which I have deeply felt. 🙂

    • Thank you Elizabeth for your extremely kind words. I too feel the connection with you. May it continue.

      You’re so right – we sometimes need to be like little children always asking “why” – and not close ourselves off and forget how to wonder.

      Have a lovely weekend!

      🙂 🙂

  13. I’d fallen a little behind with the A-Z posts and have just enjoyed catching up. The unexpected tulips opening in the sunlight is beautiful. Words seem often to have their own vacuum which you have to be in the right place to access, and why, why not, what a lovely story. It’s a word writers need constantly to bear in mind, as it opens the door to so much. Happy weekend. Thank you for the interesting posts.

    • Thank you so much Sharon. You express this well about words and the right place to be expressed. You’re right – it opens the doors to so much!

      Happy weekend to you too.

  14. Such an inspiring and thought provoking story. As kids we all ask Why, but when we grow up and stop questioning Why, even worse we don’t ask Why not, We just accept things the way they are and that’s where we stop learning.

  15. An inspiring story. A little introspection is always good for the soul.

    Thanks for visiting my blog! 🙂

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