Inquiring Minds Want to Know!
By Guest Author, Susan Hartman
I remember all too well when my children were so very young that every experience was a new one. The first gurgle, the first giggle. Discovering hands, feet, fingers, and toes. First steps that led to toddling, walking and eventually me running behind with arms outstretched ready to break an inevitable tumble. Learning to put words to objects and eventually moving from “baby talk” to a never-ending trail of questions for no other reason than they were curious about the world of which they had recently become a part.
I remember the innocence and the eager and wondrous eyes peering at me as I am asked, “Why is that flower orange?” “How does Santa Clause get into our house if we don’t have a chimney?” “Why can’t I eat chocolate chip cookies for breakfast?” “What happens when you die?”
Sometimes I wanted to scoop up these soft compact bundles and answer each and every question in a careful and protective manner so as to keep them in their sweet childhood bubble. Other times I wanted to put myself in “time out,” simply because the constant questions were, frankly, annoying!
And then they became young adults and the questions became of a much tougher nature. “Why are there people who don’t have a home?” “Why do some people tease Michael because he looks different?” “Why do some people shoot kids in school?” “What am I going to be when I grow up?”
So when do our childlike perceptions and inquisitive tendencies disappear? When does curiosity take a back seat to the mundane, leaving us too busy or too tired to continue examining our environment and the people within? Why do we stop asking questions? Do we really think that we know EVERYTHING?
Perhaps if curiosity remained a constant, societal judgment, prejudice and discrimination would give way to more kindness, acceptance, and tolerance. After all, curiosity is based on what we don’t know. Some have gone as far as to say that a lack of curiosity leads to ignorance. In some cases, this may be true.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines Curiosity as
- The desire to learn or know more about something or someone
- Something that is interesting because it is unusual
Curiosity forces us to explore, to go outside of our comfort zones and enter into unfamiliar territory. It encourages us to challenge ourselves and our circumstances, and the various things that we encounter in our environment. It keeps us from walking through life in a robot-like state simply accepting everything “as is.” It is the key that opens the door to opportunities and experiences that we may not have otherwise encountered, and that can ultimately lead us to our life’s passion and purpose, which in turn can promote further curiosity as we look for the greater meaning behind our passions.
When we are curious we pay attention. We are mindful of not only what is going on around us, but also the people in our presence. Curiosity engages and inspires us, generates energy and motivation, and ultimately leads us to answers, satisfaction, true happiness, and better overall health.
A study published in the journal Neuron showed that curiosity improves both memory and learning capabilities. According to the study,
“participants showed improved memory for information that they were curious about and for incidental material learned during states of high curiosity.”
So what does this tell us? The more curious we are, the higher our learning capacity for not only the subject or task at hand but also for any secondary knowledge that can effectuate a deeper learning experience.
Another study published in 1996 suggests,
“Curiosity in older people is associated with maintaining the health of the central nervous system.”
In 2005, the University of Alberta (Canada) published a study, which concluded in part that 90% of the population could maintain excellent brain function as they age simply by remaining inquisitive. The report went on to say that those who are more curious at a young age are likely to be mentally active in their older years. Based on this study, perhaps we should be encouraging our school systems to incorporate more creative-based programs such as art, drama, and music, rather than squeezing them out. No wonder our kids are feeling more pressure and stress than ever and losing their sense of wonder at such young ages. Of course, budget cuts have everything to do with these programs and activities being phased out to make room for more instructional teaching methods but will be depriving students of these programs that encourage creativity, movement, and expression really enhance their understanding of math, science, and history?
Early Childhood News cited a report from the US Secretary of Education that states,
“Studies have shown that arts teaching and learning can increase student’s cognitive and social development. The arts can be a critical link for students in developing the crucial thinking skills and motivations they need to achieve at higher levels.”
Did you know that studies have also shown a correlation between curiosity and more satisfying relationships? This makes sense considering that when we are pursuing a new relationship, or engaged in a long-term one, there is a genuine interest in wanting to know more about the other person.
We tend to notice small details about our friends and romantic partners and want to explore activities and interests meaningful to them that we might not otherwise open ourselves up to. Before we know it, we are engaged in new and often playful behaviors!
And that brings us full circle! We should all reconnect with our childhood selves and play! As children, we creatively entertained ourselves by pretending and playing “make-believe.”
We were intrigued and inspired by characters such as Curious George and Pippi Longstockings. And Guess what? This all stemmed from our innate curiosities. Maybe if we turned our everyday routine tasks into more playful and thought-provoking situations, they would go from dull and unrewarding to exciting and productive!
All that being said, curiosity, just like relationships, does not necessarily come without cultivation and nourishment. Curiosity needs to be nurtured. So how can we wake up our childhood sense of wonder? I believe that if we can let go of any pre-conceived ideas, judgments and expectations, observe and listen (really observe and listen) and not hesitate to ask questions, perhaps we can reawaken the curious child that has laid dormant in so many of us for too long.
As I look at my almost grown children and contemplate the fast approaching “empty nest” world I am about to enter, I can’t help but smile as I remember some of the innocent questions that were of such importance at the moment:
“Mom, why can’t I live at the bottom of the sea like SpongeBob Squarepants?”
“Why can’t we have a pet kangaroo?”
“Why does our cat purr?”
And speaking of cats and curiosity…why did curiosity kill the cat? Is that why cats have nine lives?
Inquiring minds want to know!