When I was a child, that was the only explanation I ever received when a rule was established, or I was chastised for breaking one. Otherwise know as the Parental Edict, it carried just about the same weight as the Papal utterance by the same name. Once invoked, it brooked no argument.
Why do I have to eat my vegetables?
Why do I have to go to bed now?
Why can’t I stay out after dark?
Because I (meaning mother, father, grandparent) said so, that’s why.
Nowadays, I think it’s quite different. My son might tell you otherwise, but it seems to me I spent an inordinate amount of time explaining why he had to obey some rule or perform some task.
“Because in order to be healthy you need to eat a balanced diet, and that includes vegetables.”
“Because your body needs to sleep in order for you to grow.”
“Because it’s dangerous after dark – bad people and scary bugs come out.”
My son is 31, so I suspect that parents today get into even more involved explanations. It is the information age, after all. They probably look things up on the internet to come up with justifications for doing the things I had to do with no explanation other than the famous Parental Edict.
I started thinking about this the other day when I came across a web story about using two spaces after a period when you type. That’s the way I was taught way back in the olden days, but apparently it is now completely verboten. The most interesting thing about the story was the explanation regarding the origins of the two-space rule. You see, when typewriters were first invented, every letter was the same size and took up the same amount of space on the page. It was felt that leaving two spaces after a period allowed the reader’s eye a respite, and made comprehension easier. With the advent of word processing, letters are automatically compressed proportionally, so the two space “breathing room” is no longer necessary.
Of all the people who told me to leave two spaces after a period (Mrs. Brown, my 5th grade teacher; Ms. Jarret, my junior high journalism teacher; and Sister Gertrude, my 10th grade business teacher) not one of them ever offered me an explanation about why I was supposed to do that.
Other than, of course – Because I said so, that’s why. Or, its famous corollary, Because that’s the way it’s always been done.
There’s a story my parents often tell about me as a toddler. “Your favorite word was ‘Why?'” my mother recalls affectionately. “You were forever asking “why” about everything! One time, I guess I was tired of your questions, and I asked you why you were always asking that. Your reply was ‘How am I ever supposed to learn anything if I don’t ask why?'”
Good point, isn’t it? How do we know if we don’t ask? How will we ever find out if we don’t wonder, don’t question, don’t seek a different answer other than the ambiguous or the tried and true. I guess at some point in my life, I gave up asking “why” and started accepting the pat answer I was always given, which implied that somebody, somewhere, knew better than I.
But I think I need to go back to my earlier questioning nature, and start looking for better answers. There may be lots of things I’ve been doing that I might not have to bother with anymore.
After all, it never hurts to ask.
How about you? Do you have a questioning nature? Do you insist upon explanations, or are you content with the old standby answers?