I recently spent five days with more than one hundred fascinating people at the Become an Inspiring Speaker workshop. (And it was fabulous!) In one of the first exercises, we paired up to talk about our focus and our reasons for being there. I paired up with Ross Barrable, an acoustic sculptor and builder of wind harps. (How can you not be curious about that?)
I told Ross about my interest in wonder and curiosity as catalysts for creativity, innovation, learning, and compassion. His eyes lit up, and he asked me, “Why are people curious?” I suggested that a better question is, “What keeps people from being curious?”
We are hard-wired to be curious. Children are naturally curious, and grown-ups can be, too. In fact, the human brain rewards curiosity by emitting an opium-like chemical when a new concept is grasped.
Being curious is easy – as easy as falling off a log, as they say. Or is it? Some people lose their sense of curiosity. (Is it a sense? Is it a muscle? Hmmm.) Why?
If being curious is so easy, why don’t more people let themselves be curious? I think there are several reasons.
One reason is that well-meaning adults train children out of it. Children get scared, and we want to protect them. We want to look smart. And we get tired of all those questions. So we tell them what we know, or we tell them what we think we know, or we tell them to stop asking so many questions. Maybe curiosity gets squashed as people leave childhood and it is easier to conform than to keep being told to stop asking so many questions.
Another reason is just Habit: It’s easy to get comfortable, even lazy.
Another, more insidious reason is that we think we know the truth; for example, we think we know about people who are different from us. So we don’t inquire.
I think the main reason is Fear.
But I think the main reason is Fear.
By asking questions, I run the risk of:
When we ask questions, we run the risk of being ridiculed for asking “stupid questions.” We also run the risk of getting new information that might force us to change the way we think. That can be uncomfortable.
Nobody wants to be forced to do anything, especially to change. I once read a quote attributed to Rosabeth Moss Kanter that said, “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed.” I think that is true.
So, why don’t we ask questions?
It’s easier not to ask questions; it’s easier to go along.
We think we know something.
We’re afraid to admit we don’t know something.
We’re afraid of looking dumb.
We’re afraid of changing our minds.
We’re afraid that if we allow one part of our worldview to change, the whole thing will unravel, and that feels like chaos.
Being curious takes courage. I submit not only that courage is like a muscle, but curiosity is like a muscle, too. Like any muscle, the more you exercise it, the easier it becomes and the more fun you can have with it.
One more thought:
I submit that it takes more courage to admit that I don’t know or I am wrong than to get to know someone else.
I’ll say that again, a different way: It takes less courage to get to know someone who is different from myself than it does to admit I might be wrong, or that I don’t know. Once I am willing to admit that I don’t know something, asking the questions is easy by comparison. Even fun.
So, are you curious? If not, are you willing to wonder why? What keeps you from being curious?