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Written 2008. in Podgorica, Montenegro - S. Hein


Yesterday two people asked me questions beginning with "Why..." The first one was "Why are you sitting on the ground?" This was the first thing my assistant Bronkitsa said to me when she saw me. Later she asked me, "Why are you buying a pizza?" Then later a friend of mine, Igor, said "Why didn't you take me to Cetinje?" He added, "That was mean."

In my experience there are at least two reasons for asking questions like this, and they are motivated by very different feelings. In the case of Bronky when she saw me sitting on the ground, she was feeling judgmental and disapproving. She later admitted she was also feeling somewhat embarrassed to be seen with me. And she was a little afraid others would disapprove or judge me. She was not seeking understanding. It was more of an attempt to change my behavior so I wouldn't sit on the ground again. But I am probably more likely to do it now, rather than less.

In the case of "Why didn't you take me to Cetinje?" I am guessing Igor felt hurt, rejected, excluded. It seems to me he was trying to lay a
guilt trip on me to make it more likely I will invite him the next time I go somewhere.

So to summarize, there seem to be two main reasons someone asks a question like "Why did you..." or "Why didn't you.." or Why are you.." or "How could you...". These two reasons seem to be either an attempt to change you or an attempt to understand you. In my experience, most people who ask such questions are trying to change us. An exception is with young children who are naturally curious. But for adults, the motivation for such question is less likely to be primarily curiosity and an attempt to understand.

For me, I find it takes a lot of time and energy to keep explaining myself and my actions to people. And I have found that more often than not, they are not seeking understanding, but rather they are trying to change me. I resist and even resent attempts to change me so I have started refusing to answer their questions if I think that is their primary motive for asking a question. Instead, I usually ask them how they feel about what I am doing. This offers some chance at us each understanding their motives for asking, which in turn helps identify their unmet emotional need. For example, if my friend feels left out, it helps identify his unmet emotional need to feel included. If my assistant feels embarrassed, then she has an unmet need either for social approval and acceptance, or for an inner sense of self-worth which isn't dependent on the opinions of others.

S. Hein
December 10, 2008
Podgorica, Montenegro



Decoding Marija's "Why" questions

Why aren't you carrying an umbrella?!

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Decoding Marija's "Why" questions

One day Marija and I were walking near the main plaza of Podgorica (rhymes with go for pizza) and we met a high school student named Ana. Ana told me that she had skipped school that day, the day before and she was planning to skip again tomorrow. Marija felt judgmental about that and she started interrogating Ana and giving her a lecture. At one point Marija said in a very disapproving tone, "Why don't you just drop out?"

Later I asked Marija if she thought Ana should stay in school or drop out. Marija said she should stay in school. Without realizing what she was doing, Marija probably permanently destroyed her chances of either being Ana's friend or having a positive influence in her life.

This happened about two months ago. To this day Marija feels very bad about what she did. I have been trying to be her "emotional intelligence coach", to put it in today's popular jargon, so we have talked about this "Why" question a few times now. I want Marija to feel what I will call "positive regret" for what she did. I want her to learn from it but not put herself down or feel bad about herself. Marija is a wonderful person with a big heart and a big smile. She usually makes nearly everyone feel good to be around her.

I personally enjoy and value my time with her, especially when she shows that she is really trying to learn new ways of communicating her feelings, and she is, by the way, an exceptionally passionate person when it comes to her emotions. This is one thing I love about her.

I felt motivated to write this piece this morning because Marija asked another "why" question last night. I had two backpackers from Bulgaria with me when I arrived at my hostel. Marija came to the door and they were waiting to be invited in.

Marija said, "Why are you standing outside?"

I believe what she meant was, "I would like you to come in quickly. It is cold out there and I feel bad for you standing out there. And you are very welcome inside. In fact, you are so welcome as far as I am concerned you don't even need to wait to be invited in."

Now I will go ask Marija to read this, and I will see if she will let me video tape her response!


Well I just found out she is still asleep. She is sleeping on the couch because the dorm room of my hostel is full.

So I will have to wait a while!

Why aren't you carrying an umbrella?!

From 2009 in Romania

Last night Alina the Seventh Day Adventist told me that when she was young her parents beat her, hit her on the legs etc. As she got older they did something more clever. They got her to agree on the rules and the punishment for breaking them. Now she says she is thankful that they punished her.

When she saw me she was shocked I didn't have an umbrella. She said something like "Why aren't you carrying an umbrella!?"

She hasn't travelled with a backpack so she doesn't know carrying an umbrella around is not the most practical idea. And it is not a top priority for backpackers, at least not for me. (2012 note - I think what she meant was, I'm afraid you will get wet, and maybe sick. And I was taught to believe that when it is raining it is normal to carry an umbrella so it is a big surprise to me to see that you don't have one.)

(this was from subs1.htm)


Hostel - 2012 note -- For two years I had a hostel in Montenegro. It was called Steve's Place. Now it has been re-opened as "Nice Place Hostel"