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Jan 16 2013

It’s A Cuttlefish Thing

It may seem outrageous; it may seem bizarre,
But sometimes that’s just how things are.

We can’t really question the things that we see
Or make a suggestion to change ‘em
The things that we note are the way things must be
We’re not gods, so we can’t re-arrange ‘em.

We each have our interests, our talents, our strengths—
These are hers, and these others are his
We could try to explain it, and go to great lengths
Or accept that that’s just how it is.

If men are outgoing, and women are meek
These are details which none could deny
And more differences, too, if you happen to seek
Just as long as you never ask “why?”

We can’t suggest causes; there’s no one to blame
Just describe what you see, to the letter
Don’t question; just follow the rules of the game…
And wonder why nothing gets better.

It may seem outrageous; it may seem bizarre,
But sometimes that’s just how things are.

You wanna know one of the great things about being around little kids? They never quit asking “why?”. And not the teleological, purpose-driven “why”, but the far cooler “how does this happen?” kind–”why does it snow?” wants an answer based on temperature, humidity, and the properties of ice crystals, not “so that you can make snow angels.”

And the questions can sometimes be embarrassing. Kids don’t care that you are trying to ignore something: “What are those two dogs doing?” “Why does that man smell bad?” “Why doesn’t anybody ever say ‘no’ to Grandma?” When we get those questions we don’t want, we might be tempted to give a non-answer, and hope the kid is satisfied: “Oh, it’s just a dog thing.” Which, if you are lucky, will get a louder “but why is it a dog thing?”, because you didn’t really answer the question.

The great thing about being in science is, you get to go back to being that kid. You see something neat, and you get to ask “why?” again. Why is that flower shaped like it is? Why is it getting hotter? Why is this rock different from that one? Why are men different from women? Of course, sometimes the questions are embarrassing, at least to some people, and those people will try to give non-answers: Oh, that’s just a climate thing; it goes in cycles, nothing we can do about it, nothing we did to cause it, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…

But again, that’s a non-answer; the kid would say “well, why is it a climate thing?” If it’s natural, ok, great, what are the natural causes? Things are the way they are because they got that way somehow; ignoring the reasons means missing out on the answers to all the best questions. And hey, maybe it will turn out that you actually can do something with the answer you find, even if the question was embarrassing and you’d rather not have asked it.

In the long run, it’s better to ask and answer.

4 comments

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  1. 1
    Ophelia Benson

    It’s funny. Just resorting to a stale familiar banal non-answer like “it’s a guy thing” seems so particularly odd coming from someone whose whole career is based on not accepting stale familiar banal non-answers.

  2. 2
    Dr. Free-Ride

    Is it wrong that, as I read your poem, my mind’s eye generated illustrations in the style of Dr. Seuss? (If it is, I don’t want to be right.)

    Also, +10^6 on what you say about kids and/or science as a remedy to the habit of not asking why.

  3. 3
    Cuttlefish

    As a huge fan of your Sprog Blogging, I’m fairly certain you and yours were part of my thought process on this.

  4. 4
    latsot

    With great power comes great responsibility. My parents hated me asking ‘why’ questions. I was probably pretty obnoxious but didn’t ask ‘why?’ for the sake of it. I only asked why (or so I choose to remember it) when I had a proper question.

    But in any case, they generally told me to shut up. They were exasperated. They didn’t have time to answer all these stupid questions and – as I discovered later – they couldn’t and wouldn’t try.

    Personally, I can’t think of many activities more important than answering the earnest questions of children. Or, for that matter, the frivolous ones.

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