What if we were to exercise our curiosity more like a child? What if we wondered at the world and people’s behavior from a place of genuine desire to understand? Remember how, as kids, we’d ask why, and then why again, and then why again. It was the main way that we learned.
Why is the sky blue? Why do cars go so fast? Why are there clouds but it only rains some of the time? Why do birds come out of eggs, but kittens come out of cats?
We asked questions to comprehend and make sense of what we observed. Then we became adults and somehow lost that sense of wonder and curiosity. Along with it, we knew what we knew and of course, we knew best. We adopted our way as the right and only way. What was once a wide perspective (absorbing and noticing every detail) turned to a narrow, fixed mindset. And a whole lot of assuming and making-meaning of things without ever questioning our thoughts.
I imagine that if we returned to our childlike wonderment, it would grow our empathy and compassion a hundred-fold. I believe we’d judge and critique less, and understand a whole heck-of-a-lot more.
Curiosity and wondering help us discover perspectives outside of our own, and beyond the first assumption. Starting with posing a simple inquiry to ourself, “I wonder why…” Especially when someone does or says something that triggers us.
I wonder why that person cut me off?
I wonder why that 3-year-old keeps kicking the back of my airplane seat?
I wonder why my husband puts the dishes in the sink instead of directly in the dishwasher?
And when our first guess answer is the judgment that we automatically jumped to before asking “why,” I encourage us to follow that answer up with, “That’s one theory, what might be another…and another…?” Until we have a list of plausible reasons, none of which we could ever know for sure. And yet, the possibilities—when widened out of our first judgment—give space for empathy.
For example: If I wonder why that person cut me off, my first judgment might be: “Because they’re an inconsiderate a$$hole who has no regard for others.”
Then if I get curious about what might be another theory, I can come up with many:
· They got a call that a family member is headed to the hospital and they’re trying to get there quick.
· They just genuinely didn’t see me or my car.
· Their alarm didn’t go off and their boss threatened to fire them the next time they were late to work.
· They’re a new driver and still learning how to navigate a car, spacing and speed.
· The freeway gives them heavy anxiety and, in their panic, they aren’t thinking properly.
· They didn’t get any sleep last night because their kid was up with the flu and they’re driving in a haze.
· They were never really taught to drive and have no idea about the dangers cars can pose.
Of course the list of possible alternatives goes on beyond these seven, all of which I can find compassion for and no proof my first gut reaction was right or wrong. So, if they’re all totally plausible, why not choose one that causes me peace rather than one that causes me anger?
We’re all just doing the best we can, day-by-day, with the circumstances we’re in. Let’s train ourselves to respond with curiosity, to wonder at the why, how, what, when and where without knowing anything for sure.
It doesn’t mean we’re excusing blatant abuse of our boundaries or disregarding our safety (nor the boundaries and safety of others), it simply means we start at a place of asking questions to understand deeper, to listen more than we tell, and to give ourselves permission to let our first thought not be true.
My hunch is that feels more like freedom and peace. What's your hunch? And...why do you think so?