Thursday, September 28, 2017

Cultivate Curiosity

Yesterday, I sat and read at the cafe at Kroger while Jack and his therapist shopped. A smiling lady walked by and asked, "Is it a good book?" 

"Well, I just started it." 

"What is it?" 

I closed the book and showed her the front cover. "Alan Alda's If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art And Science of Relating and Communicating."

The lady's smile became fixed. She said nothing (not one word!), turned, and walked away.

I hadn't learned much by page 8 of the book. Oh, the irony!

Now, I don't want to draw too much meaning from this amusing little exchange. Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I do. I'm an English major. It's what we do. 

So let's start with unmet expectations. My sister suggested this woman might have expected me to be reading "Hot, Savage Love." While we will never know what she expected, it seems fairly obvious this woman thought I'd be reading something she would read or at least something she could relate to. Why else interrupt my reading with her question in the first place?

When confronted with a cumbersomely long title about the art and science of relating, however, she was stumped she couldn't even muster a polite "how interesting" or "I hope you enjoy it." 

Her expectations ran head-first into a brick wall with my reading choice, and she walked away stunned and unable to speak.


In the early pages of the book, Alda explained that the success of the television show Scientific American Frontiers came, at least in part, from his willingness do two things simultaneously: to embrace his ignorance of science and to communicate burning curiosity to the scientists he interviewed. Frontiers ran for 11 years and covered an enormous range of scientific topics. These two things--Alda's ignorance and curiosity--brought out the scientists' own enthusiasm for their subject and brought greater clarity to their answers. 

Ignorance and curiosity. 

We all have the first characteristic in abundance, but rarely do we want it to show. Yet the only way to overcome ignorance is to be curious. Curiosity takes energy and effort, openness and vulnerability. Yet great things happen when we can admit our ignorance and seek answers.

I don't know if it's our our current cultural climate of anti-intellectual bullying and divisiveness or simple human nature that's killing curiosity and causing us to walk away from that which we don't understand, but it makes me sad. 

The more I know, the more I know that I know nothing. 

These words can lead us to despair and give up, or they can inspire us to fresh curiosity. They led me to pick up Alda's If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? Twenty-two pages in, I'm glad I did. 

Where are you cultivating curiosity in your life? Where are you walking away from something you don't understand? How might you (and others!) benefit from your letting your ignorance show?