One of the most frequently heard words in our house is “why.” I can hear it echoing in my head even as I write this. And it doesn’t stop with just one…the “whys” usually come in a waterfall, one after another. I strive to answer my children truthfully and directly, in an age-appropriate way. So, when they ask, “why can’t a brother and a sister get married?” I turn on the logical side of my brain and try to explain biodiversity in the gene pool. I compare families to herds of animals. I want to leave them with a clear and final solution. I want to stop the waterfall of “why.”
But then last week, a book came in the mail from a mystery sender. (We ultimately realized the sender was Grandpa, who hasn’t yet mastered the Amazon gift receipt). The book argues that young children are natural philosophers, and that if adults could embrace the “why,” we could “all become better thinkers, and recapture some of the wonder that kids have at the world.” The author offers stories of his own two sons and the complex and deep questions they began asking from a young age.
Some questions are direct and have a clear answer. Those are the ones I like. But so many questions have answers that are more complicated, less certain, or perhaps don’t have an answer at all. Those are the ones that can help minds (young and old!) stretch and expand. In order to explore those questions, I realized I have an opportunity adjust my response to my own kids. Instead of providing an answer, what if I asked them “why”? What if I dug deeper into the question? What if together we explored the question to its core?
By doing this, the author argues that kids will ultimately examine deep and thought-provoking issues – like, do you have the right to stop your brother from taking your stuffed animal, or does the number 6 really exist? As adults we are often so caught up in day-to-day living, that we don’t take time to explore these questions. We focus on the practical rather than the philosophical. At least I know I do. But what would happen if I took a little more time for the “why”? I think I would learn a lot, think more deeply, and help my children learn to do the same.
Disclaimer: The book I am reading is called Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Adventures in Philosophy with My Kids by Scott Hershovitz. I am still reading it, so I can’t give a full review or endorsement since there may be surprises ahead! And the book contains some colorful language and possibly controversial topics/views, so let the reader beware.