Why? (A tirade)

"Amy! Run back to the house and get me a needle and string.  David! Get the scissors."

Both children ran away from the grizzly scene: a pedestrian, struck by a car a few blocks from their home, was bleeding profusely.  Fortunately, their father was a doctor, and they were "lucky" enough to have been out on their evening walk when the accident occurred.  The driver had called 911 on a cell phone, and was now helping hold the wound shut.  But without some quick stitches, the father knew, this poor soul wasn't going to make it.

A few minutes later, Amy sprinted back to the scene, panting, needle and string in sweaty hands.

"Where's your brother?" the father asked.

"He was right behind me, I thought."

Several minutes later, the bleeding was stopped, even if there was a lot of excess string hanging from the end of the stitches.  When David finally appeared with the scissors, the was father was alarmed to see that he was merely walking.

"What happened?" the father demanded.  "Are you okay?"

"I came as fast as I could!"

"You walked!"

"But Dad," he replied, "you know you don't run with scissors!"

Had the setting been a little different, this story might have passed for a cute joke from a family magazine.  The humor, of course, comes from David having carefully followed instructions he was probably given by a parent or teacher on a prior occasion, even though the circumstances clearly warranted breaking them.  But a situation like this could actually be a sign of a nasty habit common in adult-child relationships:  failing to honestly answer "why?"

Young people are naturally curious, and while it is possible that David merely accepted the "don't run with scissors" rule without question the first time he heard it, it is much more likely that he had asked "why?" and was silenced with an exaggeration, ("Cause you'll poke your eye out;  people die from running with scissors.") a threat, ("Because I'll send you to time out if you do.") or an impatient non-answer, ("Because I'm your mother, and I said so, that's why.")  Without the real answer, "You are more likely to fall when you are running, and the scissors might hurt you in a fall," David would have no way of knowing what the real dangers of scissors are, and could therefore not be expected to make a good decision about when it would be appropriate to run with them -- and what precautions to take in that situation.

It is understandable that parents and educators would tire of incessantly answering "why?"  Indeed, sometimes it seems like the question is asked just to be annoying, and this may well be the case.  But, often, an adult will use an exaggeration, a lie, a threat, or a non-answer (really an implied threat), because the real answer isn't good enough and the adult knows it;  when it comes right down to it, the adult merely wants peace and quiet, some act of service, or a demonstration of obedience, and is using their position of power to get it.  The natural inclination is to do this in an elusive way that doesn't explicitly admit to tyranny.

To all the young people out there growing up under the impression that Santa will neglect them for being "naughty", that children in Africa starve when American children don't eat their peas, or that masturbation causes blindness:  I say, "don't buy it," and promise to always try my best to give you the real facts.  If there is anything so important that I or any other adult should try to convince you of it, it ought to stand on its own merit.  Age does not impart knowledge.  The young do not need any different reasons for believing something than the old, and it is a bald-faced lie to suggest otherwise.

So, reader, the next time you catch yourself dodging a young person's "Why?", I challenge you to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have real information that I am withholding in favor of a convenient lie?

  • Am I expecting this person to do something for me against their will?

  • If I gave this same answer to an adult, could I expect to be slapped in the face?

If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, you may have found an opportunity for personal improvement.  Don't let it go to waste.

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