There is an urban (or collegiate) legend about the philosophy professor who came into the classroom for the final exam, passed out the blue books (you can tell my age), wrote on the board, “Why?” and left the room without a word. Students who used only one page of the blue book with the response, “Why not?” received A’s. The rest were B’s at best. This is a professor I never had, nor have I met anyone who had him (or her). If I ever did run into this professor, I know how to answer his (or her) final.
Why? It is the question that every four year old postures over and over again, almost as a default for conversation. Once you succumb and simply respond with “Because,” all is lost. The child has emerged victorious. And there will be more whys tomorrow. However, when you keep providing reasons, rationale, and explanation, you not only help deflect the next why, you help the child come to understand the world around him or her.
Understanding why is imperative to our growth. Recently, the National Football League came into the political spotlight when President Trump referenced the need for players to stand during the National Anthem. Though I wish he had expressed his concern in a more conversant manner, and a less emotional context, I did see the “why” behind his urging. He interpreted, and conveyed, the players’ gestures as disrespecting the flag and the nation.
What I didn’t hear him ask was the why in back of the players’ actions during the playing of our National Anthem. Over the weekend numerous political pundits and sportscasters expressed their interpretations as to why, and some players interjected their reasons. From what I gleaned, the primary purpose was to bring attention to issues of social injustice, equity and police actions with minorities. Several also qualified their actions as inferring no disrespect to the military. That was their why.
Personally, I wish the players would rise for the National Anthem, though I defend their right to such civil protest. I wish the players didn’t feel there was social injustice to require their demonstration. I wish we, as spectators, could appreciate the dynamics behind the gesture, one which I don’t anticipate is reached lightly. I wish, as players, they could see the why behind those who are offended, both politicos and fans.
Once we can comprehend our why we can better understand the other person’s why. Then, and only then, can productive discourse be engaged, hopefully leading to a resolution. Let’s start by simply listening to one another.