My three-year-old daughter, Julia, has a great response whenever I ask her why she did something.
Question: Why did you pour milk on the dog? Answer: Because I did.
Question: Why did you put marbles in my shoes? Answer: Because I did.
Reflecting on the simplicity of her response, I’ve come to conclude that there is great wisdom in her words. Consider. My desire to know why she did something is fueled by my belief that if I just knew why she did it, I would be able to better accept the outcome, or at least know how to feel about her behavior. For example, maybe she was trying to share her milk with the dog. In that case, I would praise her efforts to share. Conversely, maybe she was being mean to the dog, so I would be able to correct her if I could just know why. Instead, when I ask why, she says, “Because I did.” End of issue, end of discussion; let’s go on to the next thing.
I can’t help but reflect on the pain and anguish family business members have expressed to me over the years about why somebody did something in their family. “Why did Grandpa put the stock in a trust?” “Why did the shareholders not elect me to the board?” “Why did Mom and Dad sell the business without asking us kids?” “Why didn’t my parents choose me as their successor?”
While milk on a dog is quite trivial, having valued and loved family members make decisions that cause pain can leave one feeling wounded and even debilitated.
As consultants, we often help our clients improve communication and clarify assumptions and expectations so that family members develop greater understanding about others’ motives and the reasons behind their actions. This can help family ownership teams function at a higher level. But there are times when answers are not easy to find. This is especially true when the person in question is unavailable (due to death or disability) or when a person is confused by so many mixed thoughts or feelings that he doesn’t know why he did something.
Many adult men and women struggle with trying to understand another’s behavior in hopes of gaining clarity and finding healing. However, even when answers are available, perhaps the best answer to the question is “Because I did!” This allows us to move forward, given the conditions that exist. While it may help us feel better (or worse) to understand the reasons behind our loved one’s earlier behavior, it is the facts of today that we must accept and today’s reality that should impact our decisions in family business matters.