Understand the Reason
  • Knowing why it is I am doing what I am doing
  • Recognizing how the interaction of underlying factors and assumptions impacts our work
  • Asking questions to clarify “the why” beneath a request

HARRINGTON COMMENTARY

At Funds For Learning, we are expert E-rate Guides. We are expected to be knowledgeable, deliberate, well-reasoned, and proactive concerning our field of expertise, E-rate funding for schools and libraries. Our clients expect us to help them succeed, keep them safe, and, generally speaking, watch out for their interests. We are also expected to be prepared for the unexpected.

To fulfill these responsibilities, we need to understand what, when, where, why, and how we do what we do. It is not enough to simply have a checklist or procedure to follow (although those are good things to have.) We are expected to do our work with purpose and not “just because” or “well, we’ve always done it that way.” We need to understand.

Let me illustrate this with an example from my childhood. It’s a simple example, but it illustrates the point. When I was five years old, I was standing on a ceramic toadstool. It looks a little like this one, but without the winged insect on top:

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As I recall, I was deeply involved in some sort of imaginary play and I was having a lot of fun on top of this toadstool. I happened to be wearing socks at the time and the ceramic toadstool had a glossy finish to it. In other words, I was standing about 20 inches off the ground, on a semi-slick, uneven surface, and I was wearing socks and jumping around (probably fighting a dragon or something.) This was not a safe situation for a young child to be in.

My mother told me to get down off of the toadstool. I promptly ignored her. At the time, I thought she wanted to ruin my fun. I didn’t understand that she was actually trying to protect me. Instead, I kept ignoring her instructions to get off the toadstool and I continued to play on it. That is, of course, until I came crashing down headfirst onto the ceramic toadstool. At this point of the story, my memory gets a little blurry. I have vague recollections of a drive to the emergency room, followed by the very memorable experience of getting stiches in my forehead. (I still have the scar to this day.)

Had I grasped the fact that my mom was trying to protect me, I would have responded differently. But I didn’t understand. I assumed, wrongly, that my mom was against me having fun. The truth was my mom was trying to protect me so that I could have fun; but I didn’t understand. Being an adult and parent now myself, I understand the situation much better. I realize that as a child, precariously standing on a toadstool, I was making assumptions and ignoring important facts.

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How does this apply to you and me, today? (Other than the obvious lesson not to jump and dance around in your socks on ceramic toadstools.) One important application for me is the significance of asking questions to clarify “the why” beneath a request. When someone tells me to do something, I should understand why they are asking for it. If I don’t know why, I should take the time to find out. Knowing what it is I am trying to accomplish dramatically increases the odds that I might actually get it done correctly.

Take the time to ask “why”. When you seek to understand the reasoning behind someone else’s request, you have an opportunity to confirm for them that you heard what they asked. You increase the quality of your work and you demonstrate to them that you are truly interested in tending to their needs and not just performing a task.

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As a final note, you may want to “understand the reason” and ask me why my mother had a ceramic toadstool. The answer: I have no idea.

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Key words and phrases

Comprehend the information; Insight into the circumstance; Discern the meaning; Realize the importance; Grasp the significance; Perceive the implications; Make sense of the facts; Realize the situation

Opposite terms

Ignorance; Lack of understanding; Failure to comprehend; Miss the point

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