I try to stay active on social media by contributing meaningfully to discussions. This often takes the form of asking people why they think or feel the way they do. Unfortunately, asking "why" is seen as a challenge in modern society for reasons I'll never understand.

Earlier this year, I asked a world-famous developer why one of his newer projects was not seeing the rapid adoption he anticipated. I read his blog post on why he decided to archive the project. I tweeted to him, asking if perhaps consumers just didn't see the utility of the solution? Maybe it was a value proposition or marketing problem and not a product problem? He immediately became defensive and delivered a scathing personal attack in reply. I wasn't angry, but vowed not to engage with him again.

One of my friends saw the conversation as it occurred. He sent me an unsolicited but appreciated consolation message. Paraphrased, my friend said "people often cannot tell the difference between someone talking to them versus talking at them." Kevin Hart used the words "with" and "against" in his 2017 book "I Can't Make This Up" when discussing how he repaired his relationship with his ex-wife. When someone asks you "why", don't assume you are being challenged. "Why" is often a deferential question; it's a request for information from an eager listener.

At Toyota, managers are instructed to ask "the five whys" to identify the root cause of a problem. The manager shows respect to the employee by asking "why", effectively saying "you are closer to the problem than I am, and I cannot resolve this alone." Employees often ask clarifying questions, which also shows respect, implying "you have strategic business context that I lack, which is why you are engaging with me." Prosecutors notwithstanding, people often ask "why" from a position of ignorance and curiosity. They seek advice and knowledge from those with more experience, wisdom, or skill than they do.

Without "why", there can be no true engagement. Human interaction is supposed to be more than people talking about how great they are all the time. Stop seeing every "why" as a threat and start answering it as the thoughtful inquiry it probably is.

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