“Because I Said So” Doesn’t Cut It (And 9 Reasons You Should Stop Saying It)

Inquisitive children. Pesky employees. People around us don’t seem to realize the amount of time they’re wasting by asking the question “why?”

To most of us when we’re in charge of things- a project, a household, a company- we want things to go our way. What I say goes. And in our mind, the easiest way to facilitate that is to get people around us to stop asking questions and just do what we say.

But when I was growing up, I hated hearing “because I said so”. It felt like a cop out answer when an adult didn’t really have any conviction behind what they said but they wanted it to happen anyway. It felt… lazy. And so I distinctly recall making the decision at a very young age to never tell someone “because I said so”. I would always have a reason and if asked, I would happily provide it.

Let me tell you, it has made a huge impact on the way I relate with others every day since. And yes, I’ve brought it up in conversation from time to time with other parents who roll their eyes and say something akin to, “Well, you’ve never met my kid.”

But here’s the thing. I have. I’ve got two children of my own. I’ve taught private music lessons for years, classes of children, and if I have spent any amount of time with you, there’s a good chance that I’ve also had some kind of true interaction with your child as well. And do you know what they actually want when they ask why? It’s always one of two things. Either they are genuinely inquisitive and truly do want to know why, or they’re playing a game- at which point I ask them “do you really want to know or are you just being silly?” To which they typically giggle and drop the matter entirely.

The point is, your child is not a special case. And your employee or co-worker who asks questions all the time isn’t either. We’re born with two divergent mindsets at work. One is to inherently trust others. And the other is to discover as much as we possibly can about the world around us. Those two worlds will eventually come crashing together in this exact scenario. The wonder and inquisitiveness about how things work and the cognitive development that goes along with learning to make rational decisions begs the question “why”, which will inevitably be swatted down with a rash “because I said so”, and we are forced, in that moment, to decide which paradigm we are going to embrace.

Some of us fight back and continue to ask- much to the exasperation of the authority figures around us. But most of us, in those moments, start to lose our grasp on the desire to discover in exchange for submitting to authority because they can be “trusted”. And eventually, as we grow up, we are left with two seemingly opposing philosophical viewpoints. The “rebels” who question authority versus the “respectful” who never do.

But I think this false dichotomy is destroying our society. And this “rebel” isn’t going down without a fight.

So here’s 9 reasons why we should stop telling people “because I said so”.

  1. “Because I said so” allows us to make poor decisions without thinking through the negative ramifications on the world and people around us. Questioning our motivations and our rationale should be a vital part of every decision-making process, whether it involves telling others what to do or not. We could all do better at checking our motives more often.
  2. Beyond just our motivations, avoiding “because I said so” forces us to consider our actual reasons for the request or demand and to become better conversationalists by continually having some kind of explained logic be at the heart of our statements. And it then sharpens our own critical thinking in developing the rationale behind the statement. It may very well be that the logic is flawed because emotion is involved, but it’s ok to let people know that too. “Because I’m angry right now” or “because I’m too upset to deal with this at the moment” can not only be perfectly valid answers to “why”, it also creates emotional space for others to be able to empathize where it wasn’t possible before.
  3. “Because I said so” tells the people who ask that they’re not important enough to give a reason to. That I have more important things to do than deal with… you. This establishes an air of arrogance, perceived or not, and the world could do with a whole lot more humility. And if it’s your children, you’re creating a world for them where they view themselves as insignificant in your life.
  4. “Because I said so” tells the asker that they need not consider the options for themselves. This builds a world where critical thinking is put on the backburner and exchanged for accepting what “experts” have to say as fact. Take a look at the current political and social media climate and tell me again how this is a good idea.
  5. “Because I said so” doesn’t allow the asker the opportunity to determine right or wrong for themselves. It forces them to rely on the authority figure to determine morality for them. And then, when said authority is either removed or falls from grace, there is a major quandary that the follower is left to unpack- and without a moral compass of their own, it’s hard to say how those people will ever turn out.
  6. “Because I said so” doesn’t allow others the opportunity to agree to follow or listen to you as a result of the merit of your ideas, but rather because of your force of personality. You’re establishing that you’re an authority because the authority (you) declares it. There’s no true basis for trust and respect there because the decision in someone’s mind to determine you’re an authority figure doesn’t come from outside yourself. Again, look around at today’s politics.
  7. “Because I said so” creates a world of mindless sheep-like masses who follow along at the whim of whatever is trending. No true original thought or desire to change and impact the world for good. Only to change and impact the world for {insert desired authority figure here}. That could be self-indulgent politicians, sketchy scientists, corrupt religious leaders, white-collar criminal CEOs, smarmy movie executives who prey on young women looking to catch a big break. You get the idea.
  8. The sharpest knives are ones struck repeatedly against a whetstone or similar device. It’s counter-intuitive to think that using a tool that has the potential to destroy or modify the knife is actually the best thing to improve its usefulness, but “iron sharpens iron” is a saying for a reason. In the same vein, allowing our ideas or directives to pass through the gauntlet of questions and concerns will also allow it to come through on the other side better, more formed, and more articulated, than when it was first presented.
  9. The art of listening is completely lost on today’s society. Allowing people to ask “why” and then providing them with a reasoned response is one extremely simple way to make people feel heard. And many times, that’s the difference between losing a good employee and retaining them. Or between destroying your relationship with your child and building a stronger foundation.

We live in a world now where the ones who ask “why” are told that they’re troublemakers who just want to see the world burn. And where the ones who respect authority are “sheeple” who can’t think for themselves- that they’re part of the problem with society. I think the fact that we force people to choose between the two roles is the systemic issue that we need to fix.

What we need instead is a place where people are free to ask “why”, receive a decent explanation, can then determine for themselves what is right or wrong, and everyone develops a better sense of respect for each person involved along the way because everyone was treated as a real and true human being. Cognitive development would improve. Dictators would fall. And humanity would better love one another as valued individuals of society as a whole. There’s the hope and change people have been looking for.

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