The why

When I was a kid my favorite word was why. With three letters I could learn how things and people worked, and more importantly how far I could push my Mom.  As an adult I find I use the world rarely. When I do use it, it is generally rhetorical or filled with frustration. The things I yearned to understand as a child I’ve learned and the many wonders of the world are no longer as fascinating. But why isn’t just a word to figure out how things work, it’s a powerful word that has the ability to change hearts and minds.

I recently attended a class on building an effective board where we talked a lot about the word why. There are various reasons why people join boards everything from the desire to help an organization to vanity. The speaker encouraged us to get Board members to talk about why they joined. He explained that talking about the reasons Board members joined is the most effective way to get them excited about being engaged in the organization. It seems so simple, right? But we nodded our heads as if we had learned the secrets to time travel and hastily scribbled notes. This got me thinking about the word why and how important it is to writing.

When it comes to writing I find that writers have their why front and center, sometimes even written on the wall. In the beginning, it’s how we make it through the difficult writing process and grueling revision process. It’s how we defend our choices to ourselves and our family. For some the why is a personal desire to create and for others it is a need to tell a story and make people pay attention.

When Harriet Beecher Stowe began writing, she had no idea she would create a piece of work that would change the world. I don’t think anyone can truly know how a piece of literature will affect people. But when I think back to that class I realize that Stowe infused her why into the pages and mind of every reader. Her why was so clear and present in her heart that her pen had no choice. And her words spread changing minds and hearts, and eventually changing laws. Writers are powerful. When we are pressed upon by our conscious and heart to create we are able to change the world.


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