This is part three of a ten-part series on coping with disinformation. For part two, visit Stay Curious.
I wrote about the power of why previously, but it bears repeating, especially when countering disinformation. “Why” is a tremendously powerful word, so powerful that asking it five times was entrenched as a problem-solving tool at Toyota.
It’s effective because it gets to the root of a problem. With each “why,” a layer is peeled away, and you get closer to the truth. Five is an arbitrary number; you may need more or fewer “whys,” but their power remains the same, as long as you follow two rules:
- Keep asking till you reach a reasonable root cause.
- Stop asking before you reach the absurd.
#1 above takes courage. People labouring under the influence of disinformation usually don’t take kindly to putting their beliefs under a microscope, which is what “why” does.
#2 takes wisdom, because asking “why” too many times takes you to a ridiculous place where you end up asking questions like “Why is the sky blue?” or “why does 2+2=4?”.
When used judiciously, “Why” makes people examine their beliefs in a way that puts the onus to justify them rationally on themselves. That reduces the potential for confrontation: when a conversation moves from “I disagree with you because I think your opinion is stupid” to “Tell me why you believe that,” you create the safety necessary for someone to begin to change their mind.