“Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.” – George Bernard Shaw
I just returned from my daughter Rachel’s college graduation. What a wonderful and amazing experience—exhausting, too! One of the US Senators from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, gave the commencement address. It was inspiring to hear her story of how she came to be a politician. She did not always know what she wanted to do, and once she figured it out, it did not come easily, but she persisted and has succeeded in what she had been told was impossible. She spoke the quote above and told the graduates that rather than calling them the Y generation, she was naming them the “Why not” generation, and charged them to go out and make a difference in the world. I also liked when she encouraged the graduates to hold on to their dreams even if no one believes in them except themselves and their mother.
If you are the parent of a toddler, “Why?” is a question that you may hear a lot at certain times—I think you know what I mean. And it can be a good question which can be very challenging to answer. But “Why not?” can be an even better question for us to ask ourselves as adults. It is so easy to think that we know the answer to the questions, to offer a scientific or “factual” answer to our children. I know that Kirsten was speaking about something different in her speech. It was meant for our young adults who are heading out into the world. But it is a good question for us, too. The world is a place filled with wonder. It is sometimes easy to just accept that the way things are is the only way they can be—and to think that we know. Think about how often things are offered as scientific facts only to be reversed a few months (or years) later. Our children look at the world and wonder why it is the way it is. When they are little, they are trying to understand what is going on around them. We need to give them life filled, imaginative images, that will nourish their growing souls. Then, as they grow older, their views won’t harden, they will be able to ask why not and to see the world in a new way that we haven’t thought of yet. Of course, it may not be that simple, but if we can keep alive the sense of wonder in ourselves, through all the joys and challenges of being the parent of a young child in 2013 in a large urban setting, it at least gives them the possibility of keeping the wonder alive as they journey through life so they can ask themselves why not as they move into adulthood.
As they grow older and see more of the world, it becomes even more difficult to answer the question “why.” “Why is there war?” “Why is there crime?” “Why is there pollution?”
I certainly don’t have good answers to these kinds of questions, but I do believe that if we can teach our children when they are little that the world is good, that that will become part of them, and when they see the horrible things that sometimes happen, they will be able to ask “Why not?”