How Versus Why–And Why It’s Important

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Keeping in mind the crucial caveat that there are exceptions to almost every rule, I will attempt to persuade those reading this missive that we can accurately place every human into one of two categories. Category one is made up of how people. Category two is made up of why people. How people tend to be doers; they accomplish beneficial tasks–or at least want to do so. Why people tend to be dreamers, thinkers. They might also accomplish beneficial tasks, but they are more likely to want to discover why those tasks the how people accomplish are beneficial.

How People

How people tend to be hard-working blue-collar folks. If they attended any college, it probably was a community college or a trade college. It’s likely that during their career-preparation years they had only marginal interest in subjects outside those that pertained to their chosen profession. One need not remember the events that precipitated the outbreak of World War I in order to become a first-class professional plumber. Successful how people generally earn a good living because they provide necessary services. Other how people struggle to make a living.

Successful how people also tend to equate their career success with knowledge and wisdom in general. They assume their success is tied to their presumed broad-spectrum sagacity (although most would be unfamiliar with the term sagacity). 

Why People

Why people are more likely to be college graduates–although that’s by no means an absolute–who were exposed to a broader range of subjects; they likely were encouraged to ask more why questions. Many why people go on to enter service-oriented careers, such as lawyers and physicians, but their college-era exposure to a wider range of topics made them more curious in general. In many cases, why people become society’s poets, authors, teachers, and philosophers.

Hows Versus Whys

In the Trump era, more than anytime in history, we see a national polarization; how people and why people stand in direct opposition. Most how people support President Trump, while most why people oppose him. Of course there are exceptions, which is why I wrote most rather than all

With those important exceptions in mind, I think it’s safe to say that most how people get all their “news” from no more than one or two sources, Fox News almost always being one of the two. I vividly recall one Sunday morning when the pastor of my church was away and he’d asked one of the elders to fill in for him in teaching the adult Sunday school class. The class series was on Christian Worldview, but the pastor had given the elder free rein to present as he chose within that broad framework. The elder chose to spend his 45 minutes detailing why Christians should boycott “liberal” mainstream media sources and get all their news from Fox. I was shocked and saddened. The class was supposed to be Bible-based, not a harangue against an enterprise that our president would soon brand “the enemy of the people.” But most within the class–made up primarily of how people--smiled and nodded their assent as the elder made his case.

The Assent of the Hows

In November 2016, the how people won control of the nation’s government, particularly the executive branch. For a time I was surprised and dismayed that how people overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump, who has so little in common with blue-collar folks. But then I realized that, like those blue-collar folks, Donald Trump has a how mentality and almost no concern for life’s whys. Trump campaigned on being a pragmatist who would get things done. He had no patience for life’s whys. 

I would argue that America’s earliest presidents were why men more so than how men, and that’s why our nation had such a strong foundation. Our founders were men of deliberation; they took their time to carefully calculate their decisions. These serious men spent nearly four months agonizing over every word of the Constitution that would guide this nation from that point on. Their resultant product might not have been perfect, but it was better than any other nation’s founding document, before or since. The U.S. Constitution has kept this nation mostly peaceful and prosperous for centuries. And the times when our nation fell into internal strife and poverty were times when we strayed from the Constitution’s principles.

We are now, I contend, in one of those perilous times. Our would-be-king and his loyal followers–made up largely of how people--are eroding constitutional principles and norms. (“Your phony emoluments clause,” decries the president, for example.)

Time for Why Folks to Reassert Themselves

Our world needs how people. We need good, pragmatic people who keep the roads repaired and the buildings erected and the plumbing working properly. But we also need why people to think through decisions, to truly deliberate on matters that could lead to either success or ruin. In our nation’s most crucial policymaking office, we need a why person. We need a why person who weighs decisions with great care and caution. 

As we approach the 2020 elections, I implore why people to take seriously their duty to this country to support fellow why people in their election bids. Yes, we need to get things done, but allowing a how person to rush into ill-considered decisions that often violate our well-thought-out Constitution has brought us to the brink of disaster. 

Why folks, assert yourselves. I don’t need to tell you to do so prudently; you’re why folks.


  1. What a thoughtful and thought-provoking post! You’ve stated our present condition in a way I had never considered before, but I find it makes a great deal of sense. It also gives rise to a bucketful of questions, such as how do ‘how people’ and ‘why people’ become such … is it in the DNA, or a product of those things they are exposed to as children? Can a how person become a why person later in life, can they change how they think? Gives us all something to ponder. At any rate, good post, Jerry, and I shall re-blog later this afternoon. Thanks!


    1. Thank you, Jill. As you’ve probably deduced, despite my long history as a Republican–though not any longer–I have come to the conclusion that How people are more likely to gravitate toward the Republican Party while Why people are more likely to lean Democratic. (Again, those are merely generalizations.)

      As to the origins–nature or nurture–of the category one occupies, I don’t know. I’d guess it’s some of both. Wouldn’t you think so?

      I think a good example of the how-versus-why dichotomy can be seen in the recent impeachment proceedings. The Republicans’ sole focus was on how they could get their messiah through the process essentially unscathed, and then how to use the whole process to their advantage in the coming elections. Their answer for those how questions was to attack the processes and the prosecutors rather defend the defendant’s actions. I doubt any Republican senator actually sat down and seriously pondered why the nation found itself in this situation and how it could be prevented in the future. (And one can’t properly answer the how question without first addressing the why question.)

      Meanwhile, before addressing the specifics of the incidents, Democrats were analyzing why the whole mess happened. That analysis did, I think, help them to prepare a much stronger case than the Republicans’ defense. Had the trial been held in any court other than the Republican-controlled Senate, Trump would have been found guilty.


  2. This is thought-provoking, though I do think we need a President who is both a how and why person—and some of them exist. He/she must ask the tough questions and then find ways to implement the answers.

    Right now, we are unguided by a president who’s a how person who just doesn’t know how…


    1. I think there are several, but it’s getting late in the game for us to have a choice (and my answers don’t reflect my personal feelings or sense of their electability, so I fear this is merely a parlor game now). Warren strikes me as the strongest based on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Bloomberg would also be strong. I see Buttigieg and Bernie as too much why, not enough how. Amy may be tilted a bit too far toward how. Biden, at his best—as he was in a CNN Town Hall and in his S.C. acceptance speech—surprised me by demonstrating both how and why quite well. What do you think?


  3. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    The newest member of On the Fence Voters wrote a very thoughtful … and thought-provoking … post yesterday that I would like to share with you this afternoon. I hadn’t thought to categorize people in this way before, and I suspect that most people are some combination of these two, but what he says makes a lot of sense. Take a look …


  4. The U.S. Constitution has kept this nation mostly peaceful and prosperous for centuries, but for the past few decades our constitution has been severely eroded by the “why” ppl, hence rebellion from the “how”. I agree that a rebalancing is in order from both sides.


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