When the answer is the question and the question is the answer.
This morning, things suddenly started to make a lot more sense to me. I feel liberated, I feel like I understand myself, and the world around me, a little more. If anything, I feel a little foolish for not fully understanding the answer that has been there all along. The answer is in fact the same as the question.
Over the last eight years, many people have remarked that my reaction to being injured on July 7th is not what they would have expected; they have asked me why do I not feel anger or resentment? Why have I never wanted revenge? I have also asked myself this question many times over the last eight years, and didn’t think I really understood myself; but this morning an innocuous tweet suddenly made me realise why. The answer and the question are ‘why?’
Speak to my mum and she will tell you, growing up, I drove her crazy with this question, I think a lot of children probably drive their parents a little bit mad constantly asking ‘why?’
Only, I never really grew out of asking ‘Why?’
As an adult, I started my career in software test management – here the question ‘why?’ is the whole point of your working day… why does something not work as it’s meant to? Later, I decided to challenge myself and move into business improvement and then HR management – again ‘why?’ is probably the most useful question you can ask when trying to make things better for the people and business you are supporting.
Why is also the question I remember asking myself on the morning of 8th July 2005 as the air ambulance I was in took off from Battersea helipad and we flew up and along the Thames and across London to take me back up North. As we flew along the Thames I could see the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and many other famous London landmarks. The sky was blue, and I remember feeling breathless taking in the beauty of the London skyline. The beauty of it left me with only one question ‘WHY?’ Why would someone try and destroy such a beautiful City and the people in it?
It’s a question I have been trying to find out as many answers as possible to for the last eight years. I think the first answer I decided upon, in that first week, really has helped me in my recovery and journey since. The first answer, and one I still stand by, is ‘they must have felt completely desperate about something if they felt that was their only choice.’ Of course the actions they took weren’t their only choice, but the choice they decided upon. Perhaps I still don’t fully understand that choice, but eight years later, I think I am more understanding of why someone would make such a choice. I am more empathetic, because for the last eight years, I have kept asking that question, I have kept seeking those answers. I have sought to find as many answers to that single question as I can; and I will never stop searching for more answers, because only when we understand can we ever hope to prevent it happening again.
When I have spoken with people who have committed violence, of course my main reason for doing so has been to try and understand from them why they did the things they did, and why they held the beliefs they did. I have sought the answers I will never get to ask the young man who hurt me. In doing so, I have learnt far more than I could ever have imagined. I have tried to imagine myself in their circumstances, I have asked if I might have felt the same or behaved the same; and in doing so I have learnt I share with them more than I could ever have imagined. I have learnt none of us are either 100% bad or 100% good. ‘Good’ people are capable of bad things, and ‘bad’ people are capable of good things; and none of us know what we are fully capable of until we find ourselves in extraordinary circumstances, in situations where there appears to be very few choices left. I have also seen that we all have the capacity for change; to learn and grow from our experiences, no matter how bad those experiences may be. With the right support, we can help transform the worst experiences in to really great things, and most important, I have learnt to be a far more understanding and compassionate person than I could ever have imagined.
Over the last few months, its sometimes been a struggle to understand why events such as Boston and Woolwich have brought out such anger in so many; to understand why many have been so quick to demonise those responsible, and in doing so, add to the underlying conflict. Of course, I can never condone violence, and would never wish to, but I can seek to understand it. Over the last few weeks, there has also been a great focus on the abuse which happens on twitter; abuse which I have also received myself in the past. The focus has been on what rules or report buttons should be there to dissuade people from engaging in such abuse, or to punish them when they do. Very little focus has been on Why people engage in this behaviour in the first place, or how we can help prevent people behaving in this way in the first place. I believe abuse, like violence often happens when people feel threatened or fearful; sometimes its directed to those they feel threatened by, other times it may be redirected on a group or person they feel ‘won’t fight back.’ But this morning, it finally struck me; we very rarely really try to understand Why? We may ask why, but we don’t really try and find, or understand the answer; even in situations when someone tries to explain ‘why’ – do we always listen? I mean really listen with an open heart and mind? And when we do listen, do we listen with the intent to really understand? If we don’t understand something, it can be easy to be fearful or to feel anger.
Seek first to understand before you can be understood.
Seek first to understand before you can prevent the same happening again.
Seek first to understand so you can let go of feeling bitterness or anger.
Seek first to understand so you can break the cycle of abuse or violence.
So next time you feel outraged at someone else’s behaviour, before your own anger takes over and you lash out, or criticize, insult or abuse them, ask yourself why they might have behaved in that way? Then, if you can, ask them why they behaved in that way, and ask yourself WHY it upsets you so much that they have.
There’s a theory that if you answer the question why? five times you will get to the root cause of any problem. Of course, when a child asks Why, and then why again, the adult in us usually gets bored or frustrated before the 5th Why and says ‘just because that’s the way it is’
Next time your child asks you why? Keep going with them; keep trying to get to that 5th why? with them. In doing so we may just help today’s children and tomorrow’s leaders build a better future.
Maybe if we just sat back and asked ourselves, and the people around us ‘why’ more often, and then listen to the answers as genuinely as we can, we could start making the changes we need to make the world a better place.
So, why have I been able to keep going, and to work for peace? Why have I never wanted revenge, or felt bitterness?
Why am I a more empathetic, compassionate and caring person now, than I was eight years ago?
Because I will never stop asking why?