I’ve become convinced that curiosity is the solution to most of our problems, individually and globally. How can that be, you ask? How could centuries-old conflicts, climate change, interpersonal strife, and disease epidemics be cured by mere curiosity? Well, you’re on the path to finding answers simply because you’ve begun by asking questions.
Curiosity is about viewing the world around us with interest, asking questions, listening to the answers, and then asking more questions. Curiosity is the opposite of judgment. It leaves no room for dualistic thinking. It requires us to set aside the notion that we are right as we continually seek to learn and understand.
The field of science runs on curiosity. Scientists make observations, develop hypotheses, and test their hypotheses. Then other groups of scientists test them again, attempting to replicate the results. One study is never the end of the inquiry. Every set of results leads to new questions, new hypotheses, new studies. All of scientific research is a product of curiosity and sparks more curiosity.
What if we approached our daily lives and interactions with similar curiosity? We can begin with how we view our own thoughts, as taught by mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy. We can ask ourselves why certain emotions are arising within us. We can examine our beliefs with interest, seeking to understand how they formed and how they effect us.
We can extend our curiosity to our physical surroundings, paying attention to our environments as we go through our days and asking why things are as they are. We might begin to question our routines, our habits, the rules by which we live. Why do we do things the way we do them? Is there a different way? A better way?
Noticeable change begins to take place when we approach our fellow human beings with curiosity. Our natural tendency is to make snap judgments, to place people into categories, to apply labels. On a grand scale, sorting people into “us” and “them” boxes is both a cause and symptom of war, political struggles, conflict, and injustice. In our daily lives, making judgments of the people around us limits the quantity, depth, and richness of our relationships. Viewing the people who cross our path with curiosity is a remedy for both interpersonal conflict and for superficial relationships. When we find ourselves making assumptions about a person, we should start asking questions. How do they spend their days? What occupies their thoughts? How have their past experiences shaped them? What do they know that we might not know? What can they teach us?
Lao Tzu wrote,
“To know that you do not know is the best.
To think you know when you do not is a disease.
Recognizing this disease as a disease is to be free of it.”
Or, in the words of Mark Twain, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
Solving the world’s problems requires lessening our attachment to certainty. By fostering a sense of curiosity toward the people and world around us, we continually remind ourselves of what we do not know, freeing our minds to discover, to understand, to form new connections, and to develop better solutions. Stay curious.
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