Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Why Ask Why?

5Ws + H
What, who, where, when, why, and how. 

"Now, let's apply this to the reading!" Our English teacher announced as she backed away from the blackboard.

In a cloudy room chockfull of chalk, I scanned the list and wrote down my answers.

What? Ariel's voice.
Who? Ariel.
Where? Ursula's lair.
When? Before Ariel becomes human?
How? By trading in her voice for human legs.

I stared at 'Why?', thinking, questioning, and hypothesizing (though I did not know the word). Simply put, Ariel is exchanging her voice for human legs in order to become human. However, that does not seem to be the "true" motivation. Instead, it is just one step to achieve a greater goal. Now, does this greater goal involve marrying a prince? Or is it to defy her father, King Triton? Or is it to see if the "seaweed is always greener in somebody else's place"?

Even as a twentysomething, the 'Why?' continues to haunt me. Perhaps, my mind is merely a broken record. Perhaps, it is just a coincidence that it got stuck on that one song called 'Why?'. Perhaps, being stuck on 'How?' would have been preferable.

But too often a times, I humor the need to once again ask, "Why is it stuck at why?"

Moscato + Popcorn + Doughnuts = What? Why?

So, why ask why? 

In the case of Ariel, as is in mine and yours, the why truly lies beneath those that came before and after. Like a conveyor belt, 'Why?' begs us to see our options, to ponder the value of a goal, and to evaluate the sustainability of its value. As a conveyor belt, 'Why?' exposes us through different journeys, different experiences of that journey, and perhaps even a different end result.  More importantly, 'Why?' asks us if we are doing something for the right reason(s). Hence, it can stop the journey abruptly or push it to go beyond your expectations.

Before studying the 5Ws + H, I learned to differentiate the 'good guys' from the 'bad guys'. Protagonists and antagonists were so easily separated when motivations, nuances, and backstories seized to exist. When Maleficent cursed Aurora because she seemingly did not receive an invitation, the former became a clear antagonist? Yet, the 2014 Disney film showed how complicated right or wrong can be.

Same goes for today's politicians and public figures. When speaking about former Indonesian President Soeharto, debaters can't help but label him a man of greed and oppression, before asking if Indonesia would be where it is today without the man's dictatorship. To some he is a hero, to others he is a villain, but to many he is a giant question mark. Some argue that he took a utilitarian approach* and some argue he was just plain old egocentric. And maybe, somewhere in between, someone would propose to ask him, "Why?", if only he were alive.

Why ask why? To find where?

I would propose that why is asked to understand where a person is coming from. One's assumptions, motivations and perspective can be identified through 'Why?' For instance, when a friend said that he would like to work at a multi-national company in Indonesia, I asked why not because I think it's wrong but because I wanted to know if his conveyor belt would take him to the desired end result. He answered that MNCs offered mentorship from foreign management. Perhaps, that would have rung true in the early 2000s, but today, Indonesia's human resources have developed rapidly, so much so that my friend is more likely to have an Indonesian boss who was hijacked from another MNC or a national company rather than one who came from a foreign country. Also, based on Levitt's idea of Glocal Strategy, one could argue that having a foreign boss would be more beneficial than having one who was born and bred locally, but had a worldview. Addressing the 'why?' also addressed the probability of attaining his end-result.

On a much larger scale, asking 'Why's repeatedly helps to create a pattern. My friend's concern was one that bore two underlying assumptions: 1) MNCs has foreign managers and 2) foreign managers are better than local ones. To fulfill my friend's desired end-result, i.e. to work under the best managers possible, the first assumption relied heavily on the second.

Why is he attached to the railing?

Though my observation is far from being an IRB-approved publishable study, asking 'Why?' has certainly highlighted an ancient pattern: White men are our savior. Arguably, White Savior Complex relies on a White man saving one or more non-White men, including minorities in the US, the subject of Geldof's "Do they know it's Christmas?", even educated young Indonesians. More controversially, I would argue that the White Savior Complex relies on non-Whites begging for help. A hangover of years of Dutch colonialism and a stint of Japanese brutality, many Indonesians continue to believe that Whites are inherently better than them, whether it is at an MNC or at school.

I, myself, am a symptom of the White Savior Complex. I write better in English than Bahasa Indonesia, I survived compliments on my fair skin, and I have studied in White Men's lands for the past 3.5 years.

And maybe that is why 'Why?' haunts me. Somehow, this English word, 'Why?', simultaneously allows me to realize Indonesia's tragic trajectory, whilst worshipping the White Man's language.

Perhaps, now I should ask myself, "Why do I rely on 'why' rather than the Indonesian word, 'kenapa' or 'mengapa'?" Perhaps, that will be the happy to cure this hangover. And this will be my homework for the year.

Awareness vs. Ignorance

Oftentimes, 'why' leads to heightened awareness regarding a certain subject. For instance, by asking why to my friend, I gained insight on his reasoning and concerns. As mentioned above, repeated 'why's often helps a pattern emerge. In some ways, being aware is already a huge step away from ignorance.

But, when does awareness supersede ignorance?

Awareness and ignorance create a spectrum, one that has polar opposites, a middle ground, several proposed sweet spots, as well as consequences. An entire academic life, let alone an entire article can be dedicated to this question of 'when'.

And when shall that article see the light of day? Who knows? 'Who' knows 'when'?

*Utilitarianism talks about this idea of a 'common good' or (what is often called) 'the greater good'. As the utilitarian ideal, the 'common good' is by definition the greatest good for the largest amount of people. Based on the assumption that society is made up of different people with different needs, hence minorities may not bear as much fruit or may even be harmed by the common good.

All photos were supplied by the author

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