Researchers tell us that most humans only use 5-10% of their brain capacity. As I watch my small children, I am convinced that they are using much more than that. They are always busy creating, discovering, exploring, trying something new. I, however, find it easy to believe that I’m only using a tiny fraction of my brain capacity. I have to work hard at creating, learning, trying new things. It’s no longer my natural inclination. To my children, it seems effortless.
I spent much of last year gorging on the writings of Madeleine L’Engle, a noted author whose “children’s novels” are plenty good reading for this adult. While pondering the generation gap and the sometimes-rebellious behavior of adolescents, L’Engle wrote in her reflective book A Circle of Quiet, “. . . the challenge I face with children is the redemption of adulthood. We must make it evident that maturity is the fulfillment of childhood and adolescence, not a diminishing; that it is an affirmation of life, not a denial; that it is entering fully into our essential selves.”
Hmm. Is it possible that children’s natural inclination towards discovery and creative thinking is something that should be encouraged, developed to even greater heights as they move into adulthood? Is it possible that the rebelliousness we’ve come to expect from adolescents mainly exists because the adult world for which we are preparing them is seriously flawed, because this world commands them to give up the seed of life and joy with which all children are born? Do we ask them to stop feeding the very thing that many of us go seeking in our midlife crises?
Currently I’m reading True Believers Don’t Ask Why by John Fischer, which I found on a ‘free books’ table at a local church that was cleaning out their library. Fischer’s book was published in 1989, but applies all too well today. Fischer, a singer and writer of the 1960s Jesus movement, wrote in this book that the youth of the 1980s were disappointingly less radical than he, a then middle-aged man, was.
Fischer wrote that this generation was much more interested in answering “how-to” questions rather than “why” ones. “How-to” questions are easily answered by the appropriate specialist. Answering “how-to” questions ensures success in an endeavor, and assumes that the answer is out there, fully obtainable if one knows who to ask.
“Why” questions, however, rarely have concrete answers. The same “why” questions have been asked and explored over and over again through the millennia of human history. Those who have wrestled with them have soared and suffered, produced brilliant work and been driven to madness – but have rarely remained the same after the struggle as they were before.
A person or generation who never asks “why” questions loses a sense of wonder, lacks the wisdom that the world, life, faith, everything true, is bigger than words, cannot be contained in a concrete answer. This person or generation lives superficially, fearful of new ideas and different perspectives, using not more than 5-10% of their brain power to explore the world around and within them.
So here’s to the askers of “why,” including my own especially fervent questioners Luthien and Silas. May the life I live encourage their continuing quests. May each of us grown-ups be a little more courageous this week in facing the “why” questions we’ve all-too-successfully grown out of asking.