Are You Curious?

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As a kid, I learned many things. Some made me excited and wanted to learn more. But many of them just made me bored.

Too often, kids are given rules and obligations that dimmed their natural inquisitiveness. They're told to know their place, to not talk to strangers, to avoid controversial situations, and to obey their parents, or teachers. Because “curiosity killed the cat.

In the book Seeking Wisdom, Peter Bevelin writes that “Words, definitions, propositions, statements, or goals don’t tell us anything. We need to understand what they mean. It is the same as knowledge. Knowledge is only valuable if it’s useful and something is only useful if we understand what it means.” Of course kids are never told why they must do or learn what’s in front of them. Often, they just do it because someone says, “I’m your father” or “I said so!”

When a child asks a perfectly good question like, “Why there are tides?” It’s not unusual for an adult to give a dismissive response like, “No idea!"

(Of course most adults are unaware that as the Moon’s gravity pulls water on earth, oceans rise and fall. Remember, there is never any shame by saying, “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”)

Richard Feynman's father, Melville, taught his son, the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing what goes on:

See that bird? It's a brown-throated thrush, but in Germany it's called a halzenfugel, and in Chinese they call it a chung ling and even if you know all those names for it, you still know nothing about the bird. You only know something about people; what they call the bird.

Now that thrush sings, and teaches its young to fly, and flies so many miles away during the summer across the country, and nobody knows how it finds its way.

Doesn't this tell us something in the sense of learning? Words or names don't constitute knowledge. Just knowing the name of something doesn't help us understand it.

By the time kids reach adulthood, many are already jaded or closed-minded. They will only hang-out with, talk, and praise with people who share their own point of view. When someone challenges their personal view, their instinct is to defend it (even if it might be wrong). While they may miss the opportunity to learn something new in the process.

Another reason is the desire for certainty that surpasses their natural curiosity. Why fix something when it’s not broken, right?

Uncurious people tend to see the world in black and white. People are good or bad. Choices are right and wrong. (And, indeed, sometimes they are.) Yet alternatives are not always that stark. Life comes in infinite shades of gray. And nothing demonstrates a low tolerance for ambiguity like a lack of curiosity.

High curiosity, however, opens up to multiple perspectives. It is regularly tied to greater analytical ability, problem-solving skills, and overall intelligence.

Essentially curiosity is what drives human forward as a species. The greatest discoveries often come from challenging the status quo and our own beliefs. It is also what leads many of us to take on a new hobby, pursue a second career, or traveling around the world. 

And sometimes it's just a matter of practice. When you're making your schedule, what can you add to break out of your routines? When you're doing an activity, what skill or knowledge teaches you something new and interesting? When having a conversation, what ideas and opinions you haven't heard of before?

When you're curious, you're full of energy. You're learning. Your focus is above and beyond yourself and your petty concerns. You're discovering and finding opportunities. Best of all, these pursuits make you and your life more interesting.