Do you open a book and after a few pages think “wow, this is a good book”, and skip to the end to see how it will all turn out? Or are you someone who begins the book and reads straight through to the end, even when you really think you know how it will turn out, or are a little bored in the middle? The skip to the end reader is a “what” person, and the read it from page 1 to the end is a “why” person–by my own unique definitions. If you have been reading some of my posts, you are probably placing me in the “why” person category, and I agree with you. My problem (one of many), and the problem of many why’ers is that the what’ers drive me crazy–as they are driven crazy by me. You know you are in the presence of a potential missed understanding when, as a why’er, you begin to hear fingers drumming on tables and/or feet tapping that becomes stronger as your whys continue. Or, from the other point of view, when the what’er begins to see signs of distress appearing in the demeanor of the why’er.
What’ers and why’ers are known by other names, but using them would be too ordinary in one of my posts. For your information only, what’ers are people who make bee-lines to bottom lines, and so can be said to be bottom-line people. I have relatively recently discovered that a person very close to me is a true bottom-liner. I admit to having noticed the finger-drumming and the toe-tapping, not to mention the outright flares of temper that this person evidences as my explanations take their meandering by the creek way to telling
her (oops, that person) the actual what of the conversation. But, as was not true of my toes revelation, seeing the reason required a real blow-up that was approximately 60 years in coming. Perhaps why’ers are more prone to failing to notice–that is certainly something to be considered. However, once having discovered that for six decades we have been missing each other’s understandings, the light has gone on and it is a simple question of how to get her to be a why’er instead of a what’er. This itself is undoubtedly a missed understanding, as she has told me that my long involved meanderings toward the what of my story causes her to stop listening while she waits (not very patiently, I might venture) for me to get to the bottom line. She tells me that I really should consider just telling her the bottom line at the beginning so she can mull it over while I go through the reasons why it is actually a good bottom line. What she really said was, JUST GIVE ME THE BOTTOM LINE, FOR GOODNESS SAKE!!!! She wants the ending at the beginning! Good grief.
Anyway, why’ers are also known as philosophers or top-liners. We want to lead the way down the path to enlightenment, letting you judge the path as we move along it from top to bottom, so that at the end, you fully understand all of the reasons why the what is a good thing. In reading the book, for example, the why’er wants to go through all of the plot twists and turns and see how the writer explains, or does not explain, the reasons behind the actions taking place. My what’er has told me in no uncertain terms that she simply does not listen (too busy drumming and tapping, I suppose) so I should not bother with all of the why’s. I believe some few of my students have felt this way as well (some of my more negative teaching evaluations support this new understanding). As a why’er, I want people to decide whether my reasons are good ones, and I happen to know that while some of those students have wanted to scream at me “why can’t you just tell us what is on the test, for heaven’s sake” (and some did), I calmly and most patiently reiterated the reasons why that was not going to happen, in my uniquely wonderful-meander-by-the-creek-way, because as everyone knows, I am a very calm and patient person. (By the way, Bob would not agree with that view of me. He said many times that my middle name is impatience. But he only knew me for thirty years, not nearly long enough to determine what my middle name should be, don’t you agree?)
I wonder if there can be a middle-line, a compromise. Can what’ers and why’ers ever understand each other? Can people who really only want to know the what ever get along with people who really only love the why? It seems to me there is some potential here for un-missing the understandings. What’ers are actually creative sorts, who take a what and run with it, not especially caring for the why of the what but perfectly capable of discovering whys. Why’ers can take the what and supply the why, which can often lead to a new what. In this way, both can be quite happy. But first we have to decide who gets to talk first and who must listen. Straws, anyone?
An ending statement that I simply cannot resist, given my nature: the ocean is better than the creek.