I am already off-script and off the path. My curiosity got the best of me; therefore, I am adding curiosity to the list as an essential element of resilience. The child is filled with curiosity, creativity, wonder, and spontaneous delight. These are some of the most glorious expressions of the human spirit. And at the root of it all is curiosity.
The difference between a high-quality connection with a person and a run-of-the-mill conversation is the level of curiosity I sense in the other. Curiosity feels expansive and boundless and turns a moment of conversation into an amusement park of possibilities. Boredom is impossible for the curious. Wandering around in wonder is a creative endeavor that fills the mind, heart, and body with delight. It is just one of the many childlike qualities I seek in adult interactions.
When my children were in grade school, I picked up the book Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It ~ By Ian Leslie.
I was drawn to the cover because it reminded me of a pair of barn owls named Pyramus and Thisbe, which I rescued as a young girl. Animals convey everything through their behaviors, body language, and gestures. Like this beauty on the book cover, when my owls turned their heads and gazed at me, it was the epitome of curiosity. Reading this book made me grateful for RIE® and the many ways this approach nurtures what is called – epistemic curiosity.
Epistemic curiosity is characterized as an innate desire to gain knowledge that motivates someone to learn new ideas, minimize gaps in information, and solve complex problems requiring critical thinking.
Of the three types of curiosity Leslie covers, epistemic curiosity is the deepest form.
- Diversive curiosity. – Diversive curiosity is the fleeting desire to explore novel things. This impulse drives us to endlessly scroll Twitter, flip through Snapchat, or click on clickbait, but it doesn’t engage us in deeper exploration.
- Empathic curiosity. – Empathic curiosity is the ‘curiosity about the thoughts and feelings of other people.’ This curiosity pushes us to truly empathize with someone and “put ourselves in their shoes.”
- Epistemic curiosity. – This is the ideal type of curiosity, according to Leslie, and the one we should all be cultivating in ourselves and our children: “Epistemic curiosity represents the deepening of a simple seeking of newness into a directed attempt to build understanding. It’s what happens when diversive curiosity grows up.”
When I read this book, my children were young, and their boundless curiosity was sweet and innocent. It was a joy to follow the twists and turns of their imagination and creative explorations at this young age. I learned that true curiosity, when it follows the path of development, will naturally lead to divergence and, in adolescence, directly into deviant behaviors. Because curiosity does not like rules or, at the very least, assumes that rules are provisional. Pursuing curiosity with wild abandon, as some children tend to do, inevitably leads to a run-in with authority. Without projecting too much onto my children, I could at least see the possibilities of where we were headed. So I came up with a plan. Let them break some rules and make some sizeable mistakes and questionable choices. Some of the best lessons allowed them to fully apprehend the natural consequences that followed.
I had already witnessed what curiosity loved in my toddler. Unplanned excursions and impulsive left turns that in 30 seconds could leave me standing on the beach in full panic, unable to lock my frantic eyes on my two-year-old. I found her in utter joy only minutes later, having followed her curiosity out of my sight.
Curiosity in the mouth of the teen tended to show up to family dinners and ask the smart-ass question that no one had thought to ask. – “Do you think we could at least try anarchy around here? – Or initiate conversations that no one dared to tackle or was willing to discuss. The deeply curious mind’s innovative and open brain state will repeat this, as Galleleo, Steve Jobs, Darwin, Marie Curie, her daughter Irene Curie, Albert Einstein, and many inventors would attest. I’ll tie it back to my original list: Curiosity is part of our incredible human adaptability. We are the most adaptable and curious animals on this planet. No other animal looks to the stars and wonders what they are made of or what it might take to travel there. Curious people try things out; they take risks, make mistakes, and outright fail. Curiosity is unstoppable. The seeking system continues to find new ways of approaching its desires and lust for data that accumulates into information, which leads to knowledge and has the possibility of aging into wisdom.
Curiosity has an element of play and playfulness as well. I’m not fond of bumper stickers, but I have two favorites.
Maybe the Hokey Pokey is what it’s all about, and Well behaved women rarely make history.
Curiosity is not interested in behaving, but it might be very interested in learning the hokey pokey. I am certain that given the choice, a child would get up and shake it all about over sitting still and behaving.
If you want to get curious about curiosity and exactly why our very future depends on it, google the following.
- Curiosity and brain health
- The psychology of curiosity
- The neuroscience of curiosity
- Curiosity and memory
If you want to nurture curiosity in your child, try the following
- Follow your child’s interests.
- Go for a walk, and don’t talk or point out stuff. Just notice what your child notices and see where it takes you.
While writing this post, my nephew sent me the most beautiful video of his toddler in their snow-filled garden. A little red snowsuit wandering around in the black-and-white beauty of a snowstorm. He is spending the day doing just this, following his child’s curious desire. As I told my son the other day – it was in those timeless days where we did everything together and nothing at all. All – day – long. Zero adult agenda. And pure bliss!
- Observe more and talk less.
- Allow mistakes.
- Allow your child to try and fail.
Experts in any field have one thing in common – they have failed a LOT. Let your child be an expert at being a child. Let them fall and fail often. And when they fail miserably, let them have those icky feelings of their own misery. Then, please support them in realizing this is a part of any well-lived life.
When your child asks questions, do a combination of the following.
- Answer the question. Simply, directly, and in an age-appropriate way.
- Respond – that is a great question. I wonder … (stay in wonder and ponder it for a beat. Or two or three.)
- Ask – What do YOU think it could be?
I know I said to answer the question with a question. Well, we don’t want to do that too often. Answering a question with a question can come off as evasive. It can also be a defense mechanism and part of an avoidant dismissive personality. And yet, sometimes, they come up with fantastical answers that lead us right back into wonder.
When you ask questions, ask what your child wants to know about. Probe into their curiosity rather than our own.
A general practice that I am still practicing with my children is to ask fewer questions. Wonder is an open-ended state of being. Wonder doesn’t pull on the child. Wonder meets them where they dwell. It has a playful quality that stops us in the moment and captures us in a meaningful and lighthearted way. It enlivens the limbic circuitry of the brain and fills us with delight. It is at the very heart of the beauty, truth, and goodness of childhood.
The opposite – the incurious
I’ll keep this short since I have little curiosity about the incurious. Not really. When I meet the incurious, I just get curious about them. If that doesn’t work – conscious dissociation sets in. The conversation trails off, and ……. Where was I?
Beauty – The beauty of possessing the curiosity to know more, no matter what that more is, is that it takes us out of the self. Whether we are exploring ideas, places, people, or the meaning of life, it all adds to the quality of this human experience. To become curious, we must leave the inner citadel to wander about the world of knowledge or the inner world of the other. The possibilities are truly infinite. To be in the presence of an incurious person is to be with someone who might be interesting but not very interested. How far can that conversation go? These are the conversations that hit bedrock pretty quickly. In their worst form, these are the conversations with a know-it-all or an ego that needs to be the expert or perhaps a true expert who has nothing left to learn.
How sad to be alive and ever have to realize that dead end.