The habit of adventurous curiosity
Yeah, I know. Curiosity killed the cat.
Doh! That's why cats are insured for nine lives . . . . .
90% of wisdom is cultivating the habit of adventurous curiosity.
Deep, persistent, and INSANE curiosity.
Kids get this. Even though they can’t articulate it . . . .
If you’ve been a parent, you know the frustration of your child’s incessant questions.
Daddy, daddy, what's that? Why? How come? Why, Daddy? Why, why, why?
Generally by the time they enter high school, we’ve successfully beaten it out of them.
(Just like it was beaten out of us.)
We didn't do it consciously, of course. We don’t even realize the damage we’re inflicting on them.
We just get exasperated with the neverending-ness of the queries.
Largely because we're just, well, tired.
But also because, if we’re honest . . . . half the time, we don’t know the answer! (And Daddy's supposed to know everything, eh?)
Or, we know the answer, and . . . . Uh-oh . . . . it's Embarrassing.
And that’s really the mistake.
Because the answers don’t count nearly as much as the questions.
Here’s a tidbit for you:
The quality of your life depends directly on the quality of the questions you ask.
Asking good questions is great for the mental health.
It forces you to step outside yourself, even if just for a moment.
I was raised listening to recordings of a dude named Murray Banks. He was a psychiatrist-turned-comedian/actor.
On one of those recordings (can't remember which), he says:
“It is impossible to be angry and laugh at the same time.”
Now I'm no shrink.
But I bet the same is true of being Angry and being Curious.
Curiosity requires you to step outside yourself.
To forget who you are, where you are, what you were doing a moment ago . . . . and issue a challenge to the universe.
For the sheer joy and wonder of increasing your own understanding.
The wonder of finding an answer. Or better yet, a better question.
Every time I'd manage to answer one of my kids’ questions, the response was always a delighted, “Oh!” (Wide eyes.)
She’d learned something. She’d just made sense of one more little mystery of the universe.
Sheer joy and delight. (Also generally the catalyst for another Why? Darn.)
There is something almost kingly about that experience.
In fact, a famous king once wrote, It is the glory of God to conceal a matter. To search out a matter is the glory of kings. (That'd be Solomon, eh? Proverbs chapter 25. )
Interesting choice of words. The glory of kings. Not common peeps like you and me.
Sorta like, God created the earth like a maze, a great cosmic game, in which his children could have fun playing and learning.
Picture a hu-u-u-ge spherical playground. Stretching out horizon to horizon.
There you go, kids! Go get lost and explore! I’ll call you when lunch is ready. You can tell me what you’ve discovered.
And when you engage in the game with everything you’ve got . . . .
. . . . you’re rising to the pinnacle of humanity.
You’re becoming a KING. You’re living up to the greatest of your potential. Top of the Heap.
All just by being a Kid, and Playing The Game ....
You can’t be self-conscious when you’re really curious. Not even when you are the object of your own curiosity. You’re too preoccupied being a Kid, I mean, King.
What knocks it out of us?
What makes us abandon that childlike curiosity and wonder?
Curiosity and Imagination are close soulmates. Both can get you into trouble.
Marketing guru Perry Marshall talks about how as a newly-married 20-year-old, he got fired from three, count ’em, three jobs in two months.
Just by asking innocent questions of new employers.
Sheer bad luck had led to his working for three consecutive employers who had long ago given up any notion of Having Fun or Curious Wonder. They were just trying to survive and keep the wolf from the door.
The un-curious do not like being around the curious.
And they really, Really, REALLY do not like being EXPOSED by the Curious.
Think: Emperor. New clothes.
As you grow older, you become aware of your ability to lose. And of how much you stand to lose, if you happen to push the wrong button or pull the wrong lever.
It’s fundamental to human existence.
We enter life gaining, with nothing to lose. Nowhere to go but up.
We leave it losing (everything), with nothing left to gain.
By posing a question to me (a stranger), you stand to gain. And depending on what you ask me, I stand to lose.
So choose your words carefully, Bucko. Show me up, and I'll fire you.
And so we learn, pretty early in life, to stop asking questions.
Unless we’re absolutely sure it’s not a Zero-Sum Game.
(And especially when you’re not the only one who stands to lose (eg spouse, kids) because of your natural curiosity.
Un-curiosity is an easy habit to fall into.
Curiosity and imagination therefore must walk hand-in-hand with courage.
Courage to resist the voices, within and without, teling you to quit making their lives so damn difficult.
(The loudest voices are the ones within, of course.)
I’ve just finished watching The Creative Brain, by neuroscientist David Eagleman. Great stuff.
He interviews all-around-bright-guy Nathan Myhrvold, who says:
Anytime you start asking questions in a totally new field, you have to be willing to be confused. And you’re have to be willing to be wrong.
Most people don’t do confused. Or Wrong. You idiot! You know nothing. What do you think you’re doing? You’re trying to run and you can’t even tie your shoes.
And sometimes . . . . those voices kinda have a point.
Spouses, for example. Yeah, I know you want to learn to write songs. Can’t it wait until the car’s fixed and we’ve renovated the kitchen?
But the path back to curiosity (and better mental health!) requires that you recognize those voices as a sure sign that You’re Onto Something.
This is going to pay off somehow. Even if it doesn’t work, it’s time well spent.
I’m writing this as much for myself as for you. I’m a 50-something family man, whose children are grown (and still fairly curious, thankfully).
And who realizes . . . . he hasn’t minded his own business well enough.
I’ve allowed curiosity and imagination to become strangers.
I’m determined to renew my acquaintance with them.
Writing used to be a favourite hobby and (I daresay) skill.
By this post, I am springboarding myself into new adventures.
Dude. Do feel free to join me.