The First of My Three C’s: Curiosity

And So It Goes has evolved over the years.

A year or so ago, I began to focus on the triad Curiosity, Compassion, and Courage as a mantra for the posts I share. I’ve been gratified to see how my commenters have also adopted elements of these three.  I have great readers, wonderful subscribers, and fine friends.  I am truly grateful for all of you.

I thought it worth exploring what I mean by these three words. I hope you’ll share your take on them as well.

This week we’ll look at curiosity, for in my mind, so much begins with simple curiosity.


1: desire to know:
a: inquisitive interest in others’ concerns NOSINESS
The construction inside their house aroused the curiosity of their neighbors.
b: interest leading to inquiry intellectual curiosity
Her natural curiosity led her to ask more questions.

Is curiosity a continuum? Or, is it more like pregnancy? You know: you either are or you’re not?

Where does curiosity begin? Can we cultivate it?

If you have the answers to these questions, I’d love to hear.  What I do know about curiosity is that there’s energy, a visceral excitement in my body that hits me when I become aware I’m on the brink of something new — whether it’s learning something new,  meeting someone new, or experiencing something new. I like it.

I call that energy, curiosity.

It’s like jumping off that high dive again, into a pool of the unknown and I relish those moments.

Here’s the photo I used with my very first blog post, in January 2013.

Micah jumping off the high dive. Photo by Heather Hoadley, with permission.

The process of learning has always attracted me. In grammar school, I loved discovering what I didn’t know, for it meant the beginning of a new adventure. I felt a buzz when I discovered I could articulate my quandary sufficiently to begin exploration.

World renowned genius, Albert Einstein, seems to have said,

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.

It must be true, for there’s an image for it.

Francis Lappé, in her 2005 paperback, You Have the Power: Choosing Courage in A Culture of Fear, writes of curiosity this way:

You may do something not because you’ve thought about whether it is the right thing to do but because you feel drawn to it; you are curious. 

Curiosity, by definition, requires a gap in our understanding, an unknown. And, as I’ve written before (see Taking a Vague Obscure Glance at Ambiguity), human beings are inclined to fill in those gaps.

However, there’s a bit of a danger involved with satisfying our curiosity. Pulled to fill that gap, we seek an explanation quickly, whether there’s good evidence for it or not.

Some believe we feel afraid of that gap, that emptiness. For those who do, American Buddhist monk, Pema Chödrön says,

Curiosity deflects fear’s energy into fuel for exploration.

So often we feel fear and assume it means “STOP.” For me, I have begun to see fear as “my cue” that it’s time to jump in. My curiosity motivates me to do just that, though not always. Skydiving, for example, has still not piqued my interest enough to actually do it.

What is essential in this thrust to understand, is that I set aside my judgment, my desire to explain.

Curiosity, I’ve come to believe, is the ability to engage without judgment.

With thanks to Dr. Michael Winters for the image.

In An Intimate History of Humanity (1994), Theodore Zeldin writes,

The most successful remedy for fear has been curiosity.

That is powerful. And I can attest to its truth.

Curiosity, for me, has become the single piece that enables me to listen to someone with whom I know I disagree. When I hear myself wondering “how in the world can they believe that?” without judgment (with wonder, instead, perhaps), I can then meet them on a human level, connect with them, and hear what lies beneath the words.

And, that, as we must know by now, is the beginning of a genuine conversation.

Again, from Francis Lappé:

Listening to our curiosity . . . means only one thing: creating space so that we can just listen.” 

I grew up hearing how curiosity killed the cat.  How it caused great havoc in Pandora’s life, something about it being better to keep her secret box closed. We equate curiosity  with being nosey, butting in where we don’t belong.

That’s unfortunate. I wonder where that started . . . . . .

And I’m off again . . .

with thanks to Darlene Foster for the idea.

How about you? Where does curiosity fit into your world? How do you respond to it? 

Next time: Compassion

18 Responses

  1. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    I’ve always thought curiosity was linked to intelligence. As an avid researcher, you may believe that too. Hmm?

    I’m curious about how the Pandora’s box of the pandemic really was unleashed on the planet. Theories abound, but who knows for sure. Fortunately, I am hearing rumors of successful clinical trials of a vaccine right now. Bring it on!
    Marian Beaman recently posted…Comment on Fresh! by melodiemillerdavisMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Marian, I don’t know about that link you make; there are so many types of intelligence, but I imagine Einstein would agree with you. Your comment about the rumors of a vaccine, brought to mind how quickly we want to fill in those gaps with answers. And I imagine in Florida that need is even greater. How frightening it must be to live there right how. There has never been a vaccine against any of the Coronaviruses (think common cold among them), even with years of trying. So, herd immunity is probably a more likely path EXCEPT that it appears immunity only lasts a few months.

      My mom and I took a walking tour today in a nearby town that dealt with the Spanish flu of 1918-1919. Even more surprising to me, “the properties that made it so devastating are not well understood.” Still, today.
      Janet Givens recently posted…The First of My Three C’s: CuriosityMy Profile

  2. Lea
    | Reply

    Marian, curiosity is a very interesting topic to me. I like your three C’s, curiosity, compassion and courage. All three are very valuable. And very needed in our world.

    I believe that curiosity opens our minds and and can be the beginning process of problem solving, expanding our minds, exploring and expanding ideas, and creating wonderful new things.

    I don’t think curiosity leads to being nosey, and butting in. I think there is a big difference between curiosity, that leads to helpful growth as opposed to gossip seeking curiosity that aims to hurt – and butt in where it doesn’t belong. There is a big difference.

    I’m looking forward to reading what your thoughts are on compassion.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hello Lea, and welcome. I think you’ve hit upon the very reason I think compassion so important when talking about curiosity. Thanks. I look forward to your thoughts when the Compassion post launches (probably next week).
      Janet Givens recently posted…The First of My Three C’s: CuriosityMy Profile

      • Lea
        | Reply

        Janet, I’m sorry that I addressed you as Marion. I have no good excuse, except that I goofed. I won’t let it happen again.

        I am looking forward to the rest of your three C’s.

  3. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — I particularly loved reading this:

    “Curiosity, for me, has become the single piece that enables me to listen to someone with whom I know I disagree. When I hear myself wondering “how in the world can they believe that?” without judgment (with wonder, instead, perhaps), I can then meet them on a human level, connect with them, and hear what lies beneath the words.”

    You asked, “Where does your curiosity fit into the world?”

    For me, it’s the foundation of my observation skills. I love to look. But more than that, I love to SEE. Depending on what I see, I may photograph it. And then like you, I’m off and running…

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      So that’s the secret of those marvelous photographs you post? Makes good sense. Keep them coming. It’s the seeing without judgment part that keeps us seeking, I think. For once we add our own judgment, assessment, or explanation, there is no more mystery to solve. Case closed.
      Janet Givens recently posted…The First of My Three C’s: CuriosityMy Profile

  4. Arlene Smith
    | Reply

    I find that extroverts are often curious. They are fantastic people to tag along with for that reason. They look out at the world and want to get to know everything about it, and they want to engage in conversation with everyone about it. I’m not naturally inclined that way – I’m too shy – but I value the many life-enhancing encounters I’ve had with others when in the company of more curious, outgoing friends.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Interesting idea, Arlene. I’m a life long introvert, yet each time I do a Myers-Briggs, I find my placement on the Introvert-Extrovert scale moves closer to the middle. So now you have me wondering if it’s my curiosity that has pulled me toward extroversion or is my new-found extroversion more the pull for my growing curiosity as I age. Hmmm. And there we are, yet another mystery calls.
      Janet Givens recently posted…The First of My Three C’s: CuriosityMy Profile

  5. Bette Stevens
    | Reply

    Curiosity is a wonderful thing!

  6. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Hi Janet. As you probably know, I’m a fairly curious sort myself – perhaps despite my introverted leanings. (Although perhaps that makes sense, given what tends to interest me the most). I suppose for me, it’s a draw or need to understand complex systems and dynamics; how things interrelate; causes and effects, and what it all means. A search for meaning is certainly a big part of it (although some things are simply interesting on their own). To address one of your last questions: perhaps negative perceptions of curiosity date back several thousands of years? I couldn’t help but think of the creation story in the Bible — i.e. the very notion of original sin deriving from the consumption of the “forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge.” There does seem to be an unfortunate cultural offensive these days being waged against the type of “nonjudgmental curiosity” you practice and endorse. Many, it seems, would prefer a world of demagogic myths.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Oh Tim, you’ve piqued my curiosity yet again. I’d forgotten the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” story — eat of it and you will surely die — and wound up googling it to find lots of stories emphasizing the downside of curiosity. I even found this, written of Pandora: “greedy woman’s curiosity.” Good grief. If the google search bar in any indication, it appears our culture leans toward curiosity as a curse, not a source of enlightenment. I’m now sad.
      Janet Givens recently posted…The First of My Three C’s: CuriosityMy Profile

  7. Darlene Foster
    | Reply

    I always loved the quote attributed to Dorothy Parker, “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” I get bored easily so it is important for me to pander to my curiosity, which has no limits. I need to see what is down the alleyway or around the corner, I need to wander the little worn path and talk to the person everyone ignors. Just think what we would miss if we were not curios.

  8. Janet Morrison
    | Reply

    I missed this blog post in July. Thank you for prompting me to think about curiosity. I tend to think you either have it or you don’t have it. Thinking about a few of my acquaintances, they don’t seem to be curious about anything. That’s hard to imagine. My curiosity is constantly taking me in all directions.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Janet. Thanks for joining in. I’m a bit sorry I didn’t catch your comment earlier. But here we are. I haven’t thought of curiosity in that way — whether we have enough (like courage, but it may just be hidden) or we don’t. That’ll be something I can chew on a bit. And I thank you. I like how your curiosity can take you in all directions. Off we go. . . .
      Janet Givens recently posted…What Do You Know About our Pledge of Allegiance?My Profile

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