Tell Me Why

The discovery of the body of Mollie Tibbetts has flooded the news this week. The month-long search began while our family was traveling to Sturgis to visit friends last month and ended tragically in a cornfield near her hometown.

The lawyer for the accused has been quoted as insisting that any description of his client is not a fact but “just a point of view.” It’s not the first time the meaning of the word “fact” or “truth” has been in the news recently. It seems that everyone is being led to believe that the relevance of a fact can be altered in its importance by the person’s motive or use of those facts.

Permit me to suggest that there is a grain of truth in this statement. I was cautioned a long time ago by a brilliant Bible scholar that reading the conclusion of a researcher was less important than knowing the reason why he might have arrived at that conclusion. In other words, the path to truth is at least as important as the destination. Apparently if we choose the wrong path, we could end up at the wrong destination.

I’m beginning to see this play out in the great divide among us in this country. Two people can stand firmly on the facts that they have chosen to recall and recite—and be in two very different places.

What does “why” have to do with anything? Consider a hypothetical District Attorney whose motive is to close a case as soon as possible rather than patiently searching for evidence that unveils the real guilty party. If the goal is to shorten the search, finding a few facts that suggest the identity of someone to charge will be sufficient. If the goal is to find the right person who actually committed the crime, the first facts may be altered by a continued search for more facts. In both instances “facts” were used but the outcome is completely different!

As we speak to our children about what we want them to do, it is helpful to explain some of the reasons for our request. Not because our children deserve to know why we make requests but because they are more likely to conform to our request if they understand it. For instance, asking them to go into the other room doesn’t tell them whether we just want some peace and quiet or whether we would like for them to retrieve something and bring it to us. When they get into the other room, they may stand there wondering why rather than fulfilling the reason for the move.

We teach our children how to think and how to be fair by our reactions to things like the news. We have to be careful about how we react or we may leave the wrong message. If we sigh and change the channel saying, “I just can’t listen to that person speak,” our child doesn’t know whether we think the news reporter is biased or whether we just don’t like minorities. Saying a little more will clear up the confusion. “I won’t continue to listen to someone who isn’t being fair,” reveals the reason which is at least as important as the change of channels.

Our children will know if we are prejudiced. They can smell it whether we use the right words or not. We can try to cover it up but it will peek out of our pores and betray us. Bias and prejudice can only be prevented by a focus on the reason rather than the conclusion. If injustice is equally wrong in all colors of skin or all channels on the television, we will have chosen a more defensible place to stand.

Let’s teach our children why. As we discover that some of our reasons may also contain bias, let’s be willing to change. The great divide won’t be healed by more facts and conclusions. Open ears, open hearts and strong reasoning skills will be required. Our children deserve to learn why so they can practice good thinking and decision-making skills in their own lives.

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