I often wonder how books get written, films made, businesses started, and social issues addressed. These cultural artifacts exist, we consume and are affected by them, and people are behind these creations. But how do they come to be?
Is it merely a collision of providence and luck, or something else? Why does a person choose this career or that spouse, pursue this hobby or join that community? When three doors are opened, why do we choose door one instead of three?
Not to get lost in philosophical inquiry, but why do things come into existence? What drives our creation, choice, passion, or the work we do?
Sit with these questions a bit and one characteristic rises to the top. One element which appears common in all the cultural artifacts and movements that come into the world. What, you ask?
Yes, curiosity. The simple dictionary definition is: “the desire to learn or know about anything; inquisitiveness.”
Curiosity is the engine which drives our desire to learn, know, and get involved with anything. The hardware that drives our building, making, or creating anything.
Albert Einstein seems to agree. In an interview in the 50s he talks about Holy Curiosity:
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day” — Old Man's Advice to Youth: 'Never Lose a Holy Curiosity.” LIFE Magazine (2 May 1955) p. 64).
Albert Einstein was a brilliant physicist and developed the theory of relativity. His ideas will last well beyond our lives. But how did Einstein get to these ideas? Why care about relativity in the first place?
Einstein wasn’t known for having a personal faith. His views on God were a hodgepodge of humanism, Ghandi, and other ideas. But when asked if he considered himself an atheist, he said no way, I’m an agnostic. Why? Curiosity.
“One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.”
Einstein couldn’t give himself over to the realm of atheism. He left room for the possibility that a Divine Architect perhaps was running the show. The world was bursting with wonder, beauty, and complexity and giving in to atheism was too easy.
It appears Einstein practiced what he preached and pursued curiosity with abandon. He encouraged the practice for others too. Each day, take a moment and consider the mysteries of the universe. Consider your life. Gaze out in the yard and consider the rabbit, sunsets or sunrises. Each day the world is bursting with complexity and beauty and pain.
Get curious, never stop questioning.
Curious Minds, Want to Know... What's the Point?
I hear it. But Ryan, making space for curiosity feels like wasted time and effort. Who has time for this? Don’t we have bills to pay, dentist appointments, and social issues to address? Sure, yet consider the alternative.
What happens if we fail to consider the mysteries of people and planets and structures and ultimate reality? We stagnate. Remember, all the great cultural artifacts and movements in society are built on the backs of curiosity.
And I see the curiosity-stagnation in me, and everywhere. When we lose curiosity, the person across the room becomes someone to fix, not a fellow human to care for and listen to.
When curiosity wanes, our solutions for problems rely solely on first hand experience, and what we’ve always done. But when we practice curiosity by asking questions and reflecting on the situation, we find new expressions of doing something. Maybe in more efficient and life-giving ways.
The best cultural artifacts started with a curiosity question: “What if…”. Martin Luther King Jr. asked, what if all people were afforded the same rights regardless of skin color? Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, asked: what if the Christian faith isn’t about works, and runs on faith and grace?
Steve Jobs asked: what if we built a computer that works, but also excels in beautiful design and style? Galileo asked: what if the earth isn’t the center of the universe?
If we lose curiosity, we lose everything.
Curiosity keeps us humble. People and relationships and institutions are complex. Simple answers and simple solutions are a failure to be curious. Without curiosity, we settle for surface level thinking and surface level living.
Disney continues to thrive and push boundaries after sixty years. How?
“Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
Keep it curious, Disney.
A Curiosity Practice
If we lose curiosity, we lose everything. But how can we practice curiosity? Is that a thing?
Here’s a couple ideas:
1. Ask more questions, listen, and speak less.
Want to deepen relationships? Ask questions and stop talking so much.
2. Ask: What if…
Have a book you’re working on? A business or nonprofit you want to start? Ask: what if ... Follow the curiosity where it leads.
3. Read widely and cross discipline
Read stuff that has nothing to do with your work, craft, or discipline. You’ll be amazed what questions arise and where your curiosity will take you.
4. Meditate, instead of reading fast
When I read the Bible, I prefer soaking, reflecting, and praying over a small section of text, not an entire chapter. Meditating on Scripture raises more questions and builds curiosity. You can do this kind of reading with any text.
5. Withhold judgment
When you don’t agree with, or don’t understand something/someone, withhold judgement. Ask more questions, hear their side, and do more research before leaping to judgement.
The practice of curiosity isn’t a waste of time. Your next solution or piece of art or deeper relationship depends on it. Our world needs your curiosity.
What resonated with you about curiosity? Leave your thoughts in the comments.