I am always struck by the role that curiosity plays in providing meaning in our lives, first for us, but also for the people we live and work with. This was highlighted in the December 2015 copy of The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/), which shares an in-depth article on the challenges faced by parents and students from two high schools in Palo Alto, California. Somewhat inexplicably teens in this area face the highest suicide rates in North America (in a place with a complete absence of socioeconomic strife). In one touching quote a mother who had lost her son to suicide stated, “I should have been more curious…I should have stopped doing the laundry and looked at him and listened” (The Atlantic, December 2015, “The Silicon Valley Suicides”; Hanna Rosin, page 73). By all accounts these are loving and caring parents who provide for their children in wonderful ways. That mother’s acknowledgement emphasizes the role curiosity plays in how we not only enhance our own experience, but the experience of others, drawing deeper connections and shared understanding that sustains meaning. It is the glue that holds us together, or at least a key ingredient.
The absence of curiosity is something to be wary of. We know children are infinitely curious, asking us questions in rapid-fire succession or becoming intensely focused on following the minute movements of a bug. We expect it of them as there is so much that is new for them in the world. But gradually that newness (and the curiosity that goes with it) wears off. Our school systems in North America foster curiosity as a part of learning, but often by the time you graduate you’ve been exposed to the culture of providing “right answers” indelibly imprinted through testing (it always seems to come down to pass or fail). When people have experienced great trauma curiosity is a casualty, but it is not the only circumstance where we see it’s absence. Everyday life sometimes robs us of the inclination to explore, investigate and exercise curiosity; moving from one activity to the next, always focused on reaching a horizon that does not come any closer, restricting us to just perform what is needed to get through our day. Without curiosity things become very stale, very predictable, very narrow. There are fewer options, less opportunity and less connection, to oneself and others. Less potential. It is as if a light grows dim, but so gradually we have not noticed.
Recently I spoke with someone who admitted to feeling confused by the fact that, after two years, she did not want to do her run in the very early mornings anymore, (an activity that helped to maintain her well-being), attributing it to the lack of light. Light, especially sunlight, is important to us for many health reasons, but that wasn’t the reason she was railing against early morning runs in the dark. It was the lack of connection, the inability to observe and be curious about the neighbourhoods (even the changing seasons) she ran through; in the dark she couldn’t see anything well except puddles of streetlight. The inability to do anything but put one foot in front of the other for the sake of exercise and “feeding” nothing else was no longer enough. Literally and figuratively it had become too “dim” to be useful to her. We need curiosity to support us in daily life, which begs the question, what role does being curious play in your life? How does it support you? Has it been a long time since something sincerely piqued your interest? Have you expressed attentiveness in the lives of the people around you or has your curiosity dimmed to the point where you are unable to muster the tenants of real connection (beyond the “niceties”)? Do you think you know the people you love so well you no longer need to ask deep questions? When was the last time you had a robust conversation, one where you asked as many questions as you answered? A conversation where you were curious to know something on behalf of building shared meaning?
In leadership curiosity is our greatest ally; it is what keeps the proverbial shoe store out of our mouths. I have previously written about Hicks’ Rule of Three (Listen, March 2015) – always ask at least three questions before making a pronouncement, giving advice or providing feedback. It is unfailing guidance when used in context with great listening skills and open mindedness, but it too requires curiosity to be genuine and authentic in its delivery, rather than rote or trite. How does curiosity serve you in leading from where you are? If you are not curious, what is fueling your everyday learning? What example does it set for others? Life is fast-paced and full, often too full. Curiosity is frequently the collateral damage incurred when we move too quickly with too much on our plates. However, we also need to be curious about the potential that damage has, possibly extending well beyond just ourselves as exemplified (albeit in an extreme way) by the earlier quote from a mother who lost her son to suicide. It reminds us that a lack of consistently expressed curiosity has the ability to impact everyone around us too.
Re-awaken a deeper level of curiosity within yourself; it is always there ready to support you as you move through your day. Ask meaningful questions. Start a powerful conversation. Order something you have never eaten before for lunch. Watch a bug eating a leaf (and wonder that they can eat the whole thing even though it is many times their size). Find a new adventure; take a new route to work. Go make a snow angel in the yard and see how long it takes your family to find it. See if you can remember how to swing without first being “pushed”. Curiosity is more then just connection, it is also the continuous link to our own well-being and it exists in every nanosecond between thought and action. When we choose to slow down enough we can “hear” it. What is curiosity asking of you? It has much to give, listen and find out.
Carleen Hicks is a certified Integral Professional Coach™ and EQ-i 2.0 Practitioner. She uses a unique perspective from her experience as a Leadership Coach and HR Professional to help people reach their full potential. See more of her blogs on Everyday Potential at http://www.chhr.ca and check out her Resources page to find great books, blogs and web sites that support professional growth and development.