Asking why is usually useless.

When you ask why about decisions people made in the past, they give you poor answers. Why in respect to outcomes requires validation of what become a weak decision. That is threatening for most people. So they give you what they think will make them appear at least useful.

“The dog ate my homework” has some self-sustaining ability, while “I am too lazy to do it and thought you were too inept to find out.” is less helpful.

It is about ego

If, for your own purpose, ego defines you, observed error is hurtful. Every response to the observation will be ego maximizing more than objectively truthful. Little progress is made from that position. There are two approaches to solution.


If you are the questioner. Avoid why questions. Why is a defense trigger. “Why do you own this losing stock?” requires explanation and validation. Few will give you a good answer. Instead, use a less threatening version. “How did you come to own this stock?” will often get something resembling the truth. Useful history at least.

If you are being questioned, treat all why questions as a request for more information. Like “how did it come to be,” why usually asks for something about history, ideally with a view to suppressing some bad result in the future. If you avoid treating why as an ego assault, you will move ahead more easily.

Problems and solutions

Suppose we introduce a problem solving approach that says, “We will solve the problems we can solve, regardless of who or what caused them.” If we insist on attaching a why to the problem and intuitively expect the people who caused it to clean up the mess, we will lose. They may not want to clean it up. They might be dead. We are now forced to act as independent and capable beings and set out to maximize our own opportunities.

When we can assign blame for why we are the way we are, we tend to be less proactive about dealing with it. Continuing a wrong seems to be not in anyone’s best interest. If we previously caused it by being inept, holding on to it to support our ego seems worse than wrong. Keeping losers in your portfolio because they might come back. Really?

Getting past that stage.

We seem to intuitively believe that the solution must make the problem go away. That need not be true.

It is quite possible to separate the problem from the solution and create solutions that leave the problem-causing situation intact. For example, residential schools seriously harmed many of our indigenous people. That was wrong then, and remains so. Holding on to the injustice is easy to do and it can go a long way to explaining individual outcomes, but it doesn’t solve any of them.

To move on and become the most one can become means setting the problem aside and focusing just on the solution. It is about redefining the problem. In the beginning it was residential schools, but after they stopped, the problem became the outcomes from that history. Addressing the outcome of a problem as a problem has validity. Reciting the original problem is not helpful.

Solving the wrong problem seldom works, especially when the problem you are relating to is unsolvable.

Isolate the trigger from the problem.

You could rely on the Martian approach. You will recall that the Martian has no idea of our rules, culture, or history. The Martian sees only the present and options for the future. Isolating a problem from its history is the beginning of a solution.

In more individual terms, how your financial situation came to be is history and trying to fix history may not be the best approach to optimizing the future. Advisors can help.

Confine yourself to optimizing your situation. Society wide problems don’t lend themselves to solutions by individuals.

I help business owners, professionals, and others understand and manage risk and other financial issues. To help them achieve their goals, I use tax efficiencies and design advantages to acquire more efficient income and larger, more liquid estates.

In previous careers, I have been a partner in a large, international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.

Please be in touch if I can help you. don@moneyfyi.com 705-927-4770

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