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Cultivate Curiosity, or 'Reasons to be More Childlike'

I’ve had an idea rolling around my head.

I suspect that “being curious” will correlate well with positive outcomes in my life, on pretty much any time horizon, be it days, weeks, or decades. Curiosity feels like a tolerable antidote to boredom, though boredom in and of itself is something to celebrate and embrace.

The goal isn’t to not be bored, it is to not be jaded and closed.

What is “jaded and closed”? I cannot quite define it, but I know it when I see it.

I enjoy spending time with people who are both older than me, and people who are just plain old. When they display traits or attitudes that I either want to emulate or want to avoid, I try to reverse engineer what led to that thing I do or don’t want.

The presence/absence of curiosity has correlated well the presence/absence of other traits I want to emulate.

This habit seems amenable to practice. I.E. the more you look for (and expect to find) objects, remarks, incidents, thoughts, comments that spark curiosity, the more you find these exact curiosity-sparking… things.

I’ve encountered objects and phenomena recently that sparked my curiosity. For example:

  • an old bridge: How was it constructed? What was it’s general strategy for staying up? (Was it held up by tension or compression? I couldn’t tell)
  • Metal tags nailed to a sidewalk: Were they marking property lines? Underground pipes?
  • a pipe in a basement: it was warm. Obviously it had warm water inside, but I couldn’t tell why. It might have been a return for a radiant heater, but I wasn’t sure.
  • A phrase someone said. Of all the ways they could have expressed a similar thought, why’d they use that particular phrase?
  • many many more things. (The topic of programming alone could fill books with just questions. Everything from “how the heck do wifi signals not interfere with each other” to “what’s the physics of the millions and billions of calculations a computer does every second to render my favorite cat video?”)

Here’s the thing. It would be very, very easy to not find them curious.

I mean, come on. This is 21st century America! We’ve got real things to worry about, plus smart phones, plus plenty of outrage to marinate in all day. Why be curious about a stupid bridge?

In a small way, curiosity is a potent antidote to all the mind-numbing attention-stealing crap shoved at us from every corner of the average environment.

Once I started looking for things to find curious, I found them everywhere. I’m glad I started looking.

This extends to people, too. I’ve been apologizing regularly to people for what will feel like an interrogation, as I start grilling them. My go-to questions:

  • What’s a good book you’ve read recently? Why? (If not a good book, a good piece of media. Movie, TV show, documentary, comic book, cartoon, magazine, blog)
  • If you could go back to {current_age - (age * .25)} and give yourself any piece of advice, knowing it was coming from current you, what would it be? Before you tell me the advice, tell me the context. What was going on in your life at the time, etc.
  • What’s something the world has too much of?
  • What’s something you look forward to about aging? What’s something you fear about aging?
  • Are you spiritual, or religious? Why/why not?
  • What’s the hardest thing you’ve faced in the last year?

I’ve asked one or more of these questions of probably more than 100 people. I’ve learned so much from these questions, and follow-up questions. I’ll probably be asking some variation of these questions until the day I die, and that doesn’t trouble me one bit.

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