Back to the Basics: 5 Questions to Live By









By Samantha Di Paolo

In New York Law School’s 2015 graduation at Carnegie Hall, District Attorney of New York County, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. presented one of the commencement addresses to the law school graduates. Although a happy occasion and usually a speech filled with congratulations and admiration, Vance took the chance to remind the future justice keepers in the room of their upcoming responsibilities.

Vance spoke of the struggles facing society now, and the ways in which those struggles need to be addressed: Straightforward.

The last few years it is no secret that there has been an on-going struggle with corruption in our society, racial prejudices, and feelings of discrimination on all ends of the social spectrum.  But it seems as though many people want to bury their heads under the sand and make it an Us vs. Them issue.

Vance disagrees with this method and according to his speech; the shame isn’t in not having the answers or solutions to these problems but in not asking the questions at all.

Cy Vance

Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. – District Attorney of New York County

Vance’s commitment to asking those hard questions point to a strategy that might do a lot of us, a lot of good. It’s time to return to those elementary methods of not only making decisions, but also figuring out how we got to the dilemmas that we are facing today. It’s time to use the Who, What, When, Where, and Why method of thinking about our lives as individuals and how we impact society.

Whether it is in deciding to take an action ourselves, or trying to analyze and decipher the actions of others, taking a step back and asking yourself those five basic questions can help us figure out parts of even the most complex downfalls of society.


1) Who: Whom is the person taking this action or making this judgment? Who will this affect the most and the least? Will it impact people other than the intended party? Is the person prepared or knowledgeable enough to make these choices or is there someone else that might be able to shed some light on a situation before actions are taken? Will anybody be hurt or helped from this action or judgment?

2) What: What exactly will be done? What are the different options or responses to a situation? What are the specific steps that have to be taken to carry out this idea or action? What could have been done differently that would lead to alternate endings?

3) When: When would be the best time to take this action or to make this call? Will it only have immediate impact or will it linger and have an impact on future situations? Will it set a standard or a precedent for future situations or was this a one time only situation?

4) Where: Is this a local issue or is the shot heard around the world? Where will the impact be centralized? Will it be focused in one room, one building, one town, one state, or does this go further than all that? Even more importantly, how far do we want this impact to grow? Will it go further than we can handle it and cause more harm than help?

5) Why: Why do we want this action to be taken or this opinion on a situation to be heard? Are we making this decision because it is the just, fair, or truthful one? Or is this decision being made because it benefits us over others?

These are the five questions that not only can help individuals making personal life decisions but are also questions that leaders of large-scale corporations, government officials, and other people in the public eye can take into account when making a decision.

It is not always about sitting down and taking the time to map out the affects and the impacts of a choice, but about learning to think and live ones life making decisions according to a moral compass that emphasizes these five questions.

These five questions can also be used to point out areas of weaknesses and strengths within us.  If there is one thing that any truly successful person knows it’s the ability to acknowledge ones own flaws can take you further than ignoring them.

If by asking these questions on a societal scale or an individual scale can point to a place where an error of judgment took place, or an area of strength conquered the situation these methods can be used going further. But first they have to be discovered, and admitted before they can be fixed.

Sometimes these questions will tell the asker that they don’t know enough of the information, or maybe they are jumping to a conclusion that doesn’t have any backing. Maybe they are making a decision that they know will benefit them now but in the future will be one of their own biggest downfalls.

These five questions promote a sense of responsibility and empathy that can help begin the healing process and can get us all back on track to success.

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