Among my pet hates is the rhetorical question “why not?”. I have thought about this long and hard before I decided to write about it, mainly because it is so widespread that, I think, it doesn’t even register anymore in the minds of most of the people who use it and quite a few of those who get exposed to the phraseological vomit that it really is. “Why not?” often arrives as a half-hearted reply to questions of social nature, like “let’s go for coffee on Tuesday”. Now, please don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware of the potential implications of Tuesday coffees. I have, much like I suspect most of you have, over the last 3 decades, had thousands of them and, without the shadow of a doubt, nothing good has ever came out of them. However, this is not a reason for me to give a half-assed “why not?” reply to anyone who would suggest we meet for one. I would either express my concerns for such a fool-hearted suggestion or, if I expected to beat the odds and enjoy it or have an otherwise productive session, would say “yes, I’d love to have coffee with you on a Tuesday. We can meet at this new cafe at Seemypoint street, I hear it is really cool and they have comfy sofas. Let’s do it”. Or, if indeed you feel strongly about the Tuesday issue, you can say “Well, Archibald, I would love to have a coffee with you, but, dear oh dear, Tuesday? Really? Let’s be gentlemanly and do Thursday like people of our social standing ought to” This kind of response makes you the enthusiastic friend or acquaintance who knows places, takes initiatives to suggest things and has a positive attitude even towards the venomous monster that is the Tuesday coffee.
Anyone who would rather say “no” can very politely say “I am going through some personal stuff this period and would rather not, if you don’t mind”. I can imagine some people would take this badly but this is a very civilised way of saying “no” and, in my view, everybody should understand and accept it.
Now, let’s look at the “why not?” option. Said friend, acquaintance, flirtatious cutie, relative, or weirdo you’ve just met at a conference suggests said social meeting. You say “why not?”. Possible interpretations:
“I can’t really be bothered but since you are asking and I need to – because of my oppressed upbringing and my passive aggressive personality- appear polite, I will wonder “why not?”. When you text to arrange it I’m very likely to cancel of course, if I find the right wordage for it”
“I don’t really want to do it, thought quickly for a reason why not, nothing really came to mind, so, instead of saying no, I instinctively vocalise the thought process.”
“I am the kind of wo/man who does immediately find possible problems and minor negative issues with such things. I have now concluded my preliminary search and came up with nothing. If we do go out for coffee, prepare for a lot of this negative attitude”
“I see my role as the one who is offered things, services, and events’ participation and I contribute either my majestic presence or potential negativity. This also defines your role. Take the “why not?” answer to be a very positive outcome considering our difference in standing.”
“I really want to go for coffee with you but I can’t appear enthusiastic about it because I need to protect this image that I keep”
“Yeap, I’d like to go out for coffee with you but do not expect me to say anything out of the sphere of the bleeding obvious, trivial, communication degrading banalities like “why not?”. If you expect to hear anything remotely interesting, original, amusing or thought provoking, you’ll need to say it yourself. I am the one who says “why not?”
To be fair, I am sure many people get away with it. Many people have friends who keep asking them out for their dodgy Tuesday coffee and even after repeated “why not?” experiences, these friends keep asking. But really, this is not about them. They may be exceptionally patient people. The Old and New Testaments are full of them so I am sure some still survive. This is about you, who think “why not?” is an acceptable answer to an offer for a social meeting in the era that everybody craves human interaction and yet we conduct 90% of our interacting online. Here is my message: The people who have the social skills and enthusiasm to suggest a coffee will, sooner or later, narrow down their choices of people who they go out with to those who reciprocate the enthusiasm. They love their life and that is the best thing that they can do for this life. There is no question about it. Personally, being one of the people who asks people out for coffee and only go out with enthusiastic responses, have often come close to saying “oh, sorry, you didn’t look like a “why not?” from where I was looking, apologies for the interruption”. This has probably already happened to you and you may not have noticed, or are wondering why. Expect to find yourself surrounded by other “why not?” people. After all, why not? Why not indeed…