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To the 7th Why

We’ve all been there. That persistent 4 year old who keeps asking, “why?”. Over and over again, Why?, WHy?, WHY? Until, with exasperation, we declare, “JUST BECAUSE.” This complete non-answer, combined with the tone of voice, often shuts down those curious 4 year olds. But, sometimes, and you know the kid, some very brave 4 year old will counter with, “But, why?”

The more I coach and get coached, the more I am convinced that the 4 year olds are on to something. They are genuinely, openly curious. They have no agenda, other than to gain understanding. They listen intently, and they continue to probe, not to drive us crazy, but in order to learn from us, to see things through our eyes.

“Why is that a problem for you?” is a useful and common question in a coaching session. The client usually replies with some cultivated reason, believing that they are giving the full answer. But, I’ve found, with myself and with my clients, that first answer is usually only part of the truth. When I can channel my inner 4 year old’s openness and curiosity, and when I create a safe environment by intently listening in order to understand, then gentle continued probing allows us to go beyond the surface.

We are human beings, having an earthly experience. It isn’t only Shrek and onions that are made up of layers. It’s us. It’s our experiences. It’s the sense that we’ve made of our experiences. It’s our beliefs. It’s our thoughts. And, sometimes, we need someone to help us peel back the layers so that we can open up to ourselves and to the truth and wisdom that we keep hidden and protected.

I heard the phrase “7 why’s” recently, and I don’t know who said it, or the context, but that simple phrase stuck in my mind. I reflected on it again and again. What a world this would be, if we could all be like 4 year olds, asking each other probing questions with genuine curiosity, and then listening -- not to fix or to change-- but to understand. How would our relationships be different, if we were willing to patiently and lovingly ask to the seventh ‘why’, as we connect with each other layer by layer?

Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he commanded us to be like little children.


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