Curiosity for Understanding

I’m having trouble watching the news these days. Truth is, that’s been true for years now. I have to moderate my news consumption to keep from being swamped by the flow of negativity and anger. I know people have always disagreed, but it hasn’t always seemed that our view of those we disagreed with was so personal or extreme. I frequently wonder what would help.

Today, that wondering made me think about an article I read some years ago suggesting that curiosity, among many other benefits, can be a safeguard against aggression, particularly in romantic relationships (Kashdan et al, 2013). That made sense to me. If we are curious enough to want to understand a partner, we are less likely to respond with aggression when something seems unexpected or “off.”  Instead, we might wonder and try to understand. More recently, Gino (2018) found that when people were more curious, they were more effective in their jobs, listened to one another better, and worked together better in groups.  Perhaps curiosity’s combination of listening rather than jumping to conclusions, and wondering rather than judging, might be exactly what we need right now.

So how do we become more curious? I suspect, like anything else, we practice. For those of us in North America, this could be the perfect time to begin, as most schools are closed and many of us have a bit more freedom than we had during the worst of COVID. While gratefully vaccinated, I’m still pretty cautious, but spending more time than ever outdoors in our crazy Michigan summer. Just being outside gives me a wealth of things to wonder about. How did we end up with a gold-colored rabbit in the back yard? What strategies will keep it from eating the last of my sunflowers? How will the plants in the nearby woods develop with the amount of rain we’ve had recently? What makes humid air feel so much hotter?

Being around young children can help with your curiosity practice. If you let them, the young folks around you can be wonderful curiosity coaches—even better if you coach one another.  My four-year-old friend has questions about everything, and likes nothing better than when I add to them.

But I also think I’m going to try practicing my curiosity-wondering on some of the human dilemmas that puzzle me. When someone’s behaviors or ideas seem strange to me, I’m going to work harder to be curious about them.  Rather than pseudo-questions like, “Why on earth would person X think Y?” I’m going to try to actually wonder. Why would they? What is it about that idea or behavior that could be appealing? I’m hoping that more curiosity will help me be more understanding, and perhaps more creative, to boot.

And now I’m going to wonder how that golden rabbit ended up with a typical brown cottontail mate. You should see their slightly calico-looking babies—preferably when they aren’t experimenting with eating our roses. Curious little ones, for sure.

Gino, F. (2018, September-October). The business case for curiosity. Harvard Business Review.

Kashdan, T. B., Sherman, R. A., Yarbro, J., & Funder, D. C. (2013). How are curious people viewed and how do they behave in social situations? From the perspectives of self, friends, parents, and unacquainted observers. Journal of Personality, 81(2), 142–154.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s