The healing power of curiosity
It has been a heavy few weeks in the world. In times like this we often raise our voice to speak when perhaps we ought to listen more, for it is in listening and asking questions that we may be better positioned not only to understand what’s happening around us, but resist having these events control us and risk repeating unhealthy patterns.
It’s hard not to get discouraged with all of the things that are going on; these are heavy days filled with conflict, tension and confusion.
- We’ve witnessed a mass shooting of gay revellers in an Orlando nightclub.
- Yesterday we saw law enforcement officers struck down in an ambush during a peaceful protest spurred on by two other terrible incidents where law enforcement officers in the United States were on the other end of the gun, killing unarmed black men on two separate days.
- Massive losses of life were further incurred at Istanbul’s airport and Baghdad with bombs set off, leaving hundreds of lives lost or permanently scarred.
- Britain voted to leave the European Union, cleaving that country into two in terms of opinion and further damaging relations between citizens of Scotland, Ireland and England. This has caused turmoil all through Europe and markets everywhere.
- In Toronto, our annual Pride parade was paused/disrupted by a Black Lives Matter protest group that held a 30-minute sit-in that was ended only after a list of demands were agreed to (and then dismissed) prompting a heated debate among groups from many stripes about the appropriateness of the action and its rationale and — sadly and perhaps predictably — racial hate messages.
These are dynamic, difficult times. It’s easy to get discouraged, but it’s also easy to get lulled into a pattern of thinking and behaviour that could serve to later perpetuate some of the very problems that these issues partly arise from: dealing with difference.
A curious thing…
A funny thing happens with certainty: you stop asking questions.
I don’t question how to tie my shoes: I simply know how to do it. I’m not curious about whether there are better ways to do it, more enjoyable or more efficient strategies or ones that will leave my shoes better tied. I’m Ok with that. But what happens when my certainty extends to things with more dimensions to it like what to eat for dinner, places to live, potential career paths, friendship or partner choices, or attitudes toward social groups or political situations? The consequences of excluding other perspectives and options are more substantial.
It reminds me of a scene in the first Men in Black film when the character played by Will Smith is confronted with a truth that he is living among aliens from other planets. Tommy Lee Jones’ character explains how it is that people resist the idea of accepting other possibilities because of what they ‘know’.
When we judge something or assert knowledge, we dampen or even shut down our curiosity. Particularly with complex systems, there are tremendous advantages (and need) to see them from different perspectives by asking questions and being curious.
Curiosity is what protects us from developing a locked in mindset focused on singular solutions and opens up possibilities.
Seeing the situation from others’ points of view may not shift your beliefs about that issue, but can make you better able to deal with it.
Contemplating alternative paths to love
Contemplative inquiry is one manner of doing this. Contemplative inquiry allows for seeing past events and anchoring those signals to the present and future desires. It is a very old way of doing things with more modern sensibilities. Arthur Zajonc, a professor of physics and former president of the Mind and Life Institute, has written about contemplative inquiry in a book with the same name. The approach is rooted in traditional mindfulness practices and brings, in many ways, the same focus and discipline that you would to science. Scientists ask questions and always seek to disprove their ideas for it is only then that they can make a confident assertion of something being ‘fact’ or evidence.
Contemplative inquiry is about advancing understanding to produce love. Adam Kahane of Reos Partners has written about the tensions between power and love, saying that it is in that quest for love and understanding of power that much of social change takes place. These are times where power and love are colliding and opening ourselves to being curious about perspectives that are different from us, hold alternative currency, or are simply alien to our way of life will help ensure that we don’t allow things like violence and aggressive conflict to consume us, lest we become the very thing we struggle against.
The Beatles sang “all you need is love”, but love on its own is blind. Curiosity with love is what help you to see.
Photo credits: Protest by Jennifer C., Black Lives Matter by Bille Grace Ward, and Curiosity by Jason Armstrong all used under Creative Commons License via Flickr. Thank you all for sharing your work.