The Power of Why(?)

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By Ariel Minter

I hadn’t understood or paid much attention to what “ideology” meant until I was a senior in high school. I’m sure this could come across as ignorant to some. The thing is, I just never had someone sit me down and explain that the way I think and what I believe are all products of the environment(s) I have been raised, who raised me, and who I’ve spent time with. 

My 17-year-old brain just thought I was creating all my beliefs and ideas on my own (of course). One of the most influential mentors and teachers I have had the privilege of studying under spent an entire year around teaching myself and my peers what that word meant and how key it is to challenge it. 

In the simplest of terms, ideology means “the science of ideas; the study of their origin and nature.” As the first semester progressed, he challenged us to challenge our ideologies. He did this by asking a simple question over and over again: Why?

I quickly became frustrated. I felt like everything I thought were my beliefs had in fact been a series of thoughts and ideas I had been surrounded by my entire life. 

Did I have the capacity for original thoughts? Was I really just a carbon-copy human of all the ancestors who were before me? I felt like there was no way to really detach. It was impossible to really have a true belief system unless I was to challenge everything I had ever known to be true.

I believe this feeling is what many describe as a “paradigm shift”. Very little, if any, of what I believed were things that I had personally found to be true. My thoughts on the most controversial topics (God, abortion, same-sex marriage, compassion, etc) were all bits of what I had been told were true. 

What did I know to be true vs. what had I been told was true? Where was the line? Was there a difference? I was crushed. Nearly every single belief that I considered mine were “truths” that I had been told. I had been told by those who raised me, my peers, the media. etc. I realized that what I thought were my beliefs were also heavily based simply on what year I had been born in and what kind of world I had been born into. These were all inherited beliefs, therefore inherited ideologies.  

It felt like everything was a big sham. A big fake-you. How could anyone really know what they believed if they didn’t challenge everything? And holy cow was that an exhausting thought.

I soon realized that it is much easier to be told truths than it is to go and discover them. Reverting back to my inner-three-year-old, it felt as though my response to every thought, every statement, every truth I had been told was “why?”. 

There are many things you cannot prove. You can believe in God, but common belief says it cannot be scientifically proven. You can believe in the big bang theory, but it cannot necessarily be proven. Believing in anything that cannot be proven is a choice. 

Understanding my own ideology is a never ending series of “Whys”. Sometimes I just don’t have the energy to question everything all the time because it is exhausting, and it isn’t easy (or fun) to constantly be fact-checking. This just reinforces my belief that anything worthwhile is going to take a lot of energy.

I choose to believe in what I question. If I give something the opportunity to be questioned, even if this is interpersonally, then I have challenged it. Then I can have peace and conviction in who I am, because I know what makes me that person. 

The gift in all of this is how it can ease the confusion of differing ideologies. Life is full of dealing with people who believe differently than you. When you give yourself time to challenge your own ideologies, it is much easier to practice tolerance of others.  It is not natural to be accepting of opposing ideologies. Tolerance is something you learn, and it is taught too seldom. 

This challenge of “whys”  give you permission to disagree with someones lifestyle and just because you disagree you don’t hate them or fear them for it. It means you can have the hard conversations about your convictions, and it can be done in love instead of control. It means that even though you love someone, it doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they believe. 

I challenge you to challenge yourself. Write down statements of what you believe to be an absolute truth, then ask why. Have you found your beliefs to be true or were you simply told it was true? Do you practice tolerance?

Never stop asking why.