Why Ask Why?

I’m not sure if you are like me, but my guess is that there are quite a few of you. I often find a topic of interest and just kind of dive head first. I immerse myself in a single topic. I like to go down all the rabbit holes until I’m exhausted. This is what I’m currently doing in my study of witchcraft.

I feel like that is kind of a strange statement, so I would like to add some context before proceeding. If you have been with us for a while, then you know that I am a story teller (which is an author who’s bad at grammar). Every October I publish a story and share it, or an excerpt of it, on the blog. This year I am writing my story “Ghost Puncher.” (For a contextual explanation of the title, you’ll have to read the story.) In my story there is a witch. I like to ground my fictional characters in truth or real life. We’ve all heard that the best lie has an element of truth to it. That applies to story telling as well. The best villains have an element of real life in them. I had a text book from college that I have been meaning to read for….15 years now….yeesh…. I opened it up and got the info I needed. My research piqued my interest and I decided to read the book cover to cover. I followed the white rabbit and now I’m in that weird falling for ever scene from Alice In Wonderland. I’m a little nervous of what this Wonderland will look like.

As is my modus operandi, I read something and then want to discuss it with AJ on the podcast. That is what we did last week and will continue to do for at least a few more weeks. Towards the end of our conversation (here) I came to the realization that I was only looking at one side of the coin. There were some clear benefits to this approach, but also some inherent risks.

The benefit of a singular focus is the depth at which it can be explored. The world and the humans that fill it are complicated. It is a tangled web we weave. If trying to process the entirety of all human experience over the span of some 500 years, we will see only vague generalities. In order to get a deep understanding of a subject, we have to remove all of the crap that muddies the water. By clearing all of that out, we can see the one thing as it truly is. We can see how it changes over time. We can see specific details that are significant only at the micro level.

The risk of this level of zoom is that…the world and the humans that fill it are complicated. We are never separated from tangled web we weave. Every action shakes the web. Nothing happens in isolation. If we want to understand WHY a thing changed over time, we have to pull back and look at the full picture. What outside influences were driving that change? What drops rippled through time and resulted in this future change?

Focusing on the single subject is to review the effect. To understand a topic, is to review the cause and effect together. It’s like being smart and wise. I know a lot of people who are super smart about a single thing, but can barely function in society. I also know others who learn something then seek to know the “why” because that will help them make decisions in the future (that’s my view of wisdom). We need both types to move forward.

This book I’m reading is in the realm of “smart.” There is a lot of deep information on a single subject with all of the extraneous context removed. That means I, as the reader, need to be cognizant of the why. I will need to pull back from the topic occasionally to see the larger picture, to understand why these things were happening, why they changed. If I don’t understand the why, then this history will not help me make better decisions in the future…which is the entire point of studying history.

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