The Best Trait we Love to Discourage in Kids

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

– Albert Einstein

Boys my boys,

Your growth will only be limited by your degree of curiosity. Up until this point in your life, you have both been naturally curious creatures. This has at times frustrated or even scared me, but mostly thrilled me.

In my experience curiosity has become a bit of a lost art form. Sadly it can be discouraged in our institutions of learning and of faith and even at home. Leaving children to conclude curiosity is a bad thing.

What Society Tells Us About Curiosity

We even have a saying we recite to children to warn them of the dangers of displaying these qualities, “curiosity killed the cat.” This not only gives the message that no good can come from curiosity, it takes it the step further and suggests harm may result from your curiosity.

 

“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”

– Albert Einstein

Schools

Schools should be beacons of curiosity, but unfortunately too many have become focused on test performance. This isn’t to say that learning doesn’t take place at schools because it does. However, our educators are trapped in delivering specific information. Anything that falls outside of these parameters is generally discouraged. Which leads to the death of curiosity rather than the celebration of it.

I am a huge advocate for education, for teachers, and for schools. I believe that teachers are horribly underpaid for the work that they do. And I further believe that millions of teachers find a way to teach what is required and foster curiosity at the same time. But I think they are able to do so despite education policy and not because of it.

Our teachers should be free not to just shape young minds, but to provide the students with the skills to shape their own minds. Teaching children to wield their curious nature rather than suppress them.

Faith Institutions

For anyone reading this that aren’t my sons. I want you to see this next section not as a criticism of your faith, but rather as a healthy challenge to look at how your faith handles questions. Faith is a deeply personal topic and I generally try to steer clear of it in my public musings, in an attempt to avoid any unintentional offense. So if I offend you in any way I apologize, that is not my intent.

Your grandmother [my mother] is fond of telling the story from my childhood about when I was kicked out of Sunday school because I asked too many questions. While this is a humorous anecdote, it reveals a darker truth: some institutions of faith aren’t comfortable with curious minds.

To me, this is antithetical to what your faith should be. My faith is deepened through inquiry not threatened by it. I cringe when I hear legitimate questions about faith dismissed with trite clichés. (“That’s why they call it faith.” Or “Let go and let God.”)

I believe that God gave us an intellect and curious nature to use as a tool to deepen our faith. But all too often in the institutions of faith, I’ve seen intellect and curiosity vilified and dismissed.

My hope for you is that you aren’t afraid to question anything: least of all one of the most important parts of life, your spirituality.

Home

Even our home environments, which we have absolute control over, fall short of empowering young minds to fuel their curious natures. Despite my best efforts to foster an environment of curiosity, I know I’ve said the following to you:

“Because I said so.”

“Because I’m your father.”

“This is my house and my rules.”

“That’s just the way it is.”

Some of these retorts may have been appropriate responses to a snarky comment. However, I know that there have been times when I’ve said these things because I lacked the patience to encourage your curiosity.

You brought to me a genuine interest in understanding something about your world and I shut you down because I didn’t have the emotional energy to explain it to you. These are not my proudest moments as a father.

However, I hope I’ve done enough good to ensure that your curiosity continues to burn brightly. I hope for every “because I said so” I provided ten patient and thoughtful responses. And for every “that’s just the way it is” I responded ten times more with “I don’t know, let’s look it up.”

Genuine Curiosity

I think it’s fair to say that the natural curiosity you and all kids have, has faced its fair share of pushback. However, it is my hope that enough genuine curiosity will survive these discouragements and you’ll bring this skill into your adult life.

I’m intentional about the word genuine in this case because there are other ways in which curiosity can be used. It can be manipulative, fake, demanding, judgmental, self-serving, and accusatory just to name a few unhealthier iterations of this particular trait.

But it is genuine curiosity that I’ve attempted to instill in you: a curiosity that is centered in respect and an earnest desire to understand. If you’re able to achieve this, you’ll reap the rewards for your entire life. Below are just a few of the benefits that will come from having a genuinely curious mind.

 

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

– Albert Einstein

Knowledge of the World Around You

One of the reasons that travel is such an important part of our family is because the world is a fascinating place. However, even if you never leave your hometown, to the curious-minded the world remains full of wonder.

When you harness the power of curiosity there is no end to what you can discover. You’ll think twice about stepping on a bug when you learn about the intricate nature of their exoskeleton (or discover it’s a mother caring for it’s young as a young Mr. 1500 did). The beauty of the sunset somehow becomes more beautiful after studying the human eye and its ability to distinguish 7 million different colors.  And the awesome vastness of the ocean is all the more humbling when you’ve explored the basics of marine biology.

In short, curiosity will provide you with a more profound look at the world. It will deepen your connection to your environment and is a gateway drug to other amazing attributes like appreciation, humility, compassion, and acceptance just to name a few.

Curiosity is a gateway drug to appreciation, humility, compassion, and acceptance. Click To Tweet

Self-Awareness

In addition to all of these great attributes, Curiosity’s greatest gift is self-awareness. An important aspect of learning about the world around you is learning how you fit into it. Being willing to apply your curiosity filter inward helps you discover who you are, what makes you tick, and how you can get the most out of your life.

While the journey to self-awareness can be at times painful and lonely, it is a trip worth taking. The enlightenment you gain through fostering your curiosity will forever alter how you see yourself and your place in the world.

Self-discovery is a never-ending journey and I hope that you both continually turn towards self-reflection. Curiosity will help you discover who you are, what purpose drives you, what values you’ll live by, what beliefs you’ll hold, and what will give your life meaning, just to name a few.

In addition to these less tangible benefits, curiosity has some practical applications as well.

“Pay attention to those employees who respectfully ask why. They are demonstrating an interest in their jobs and exhibiting a curiosity that could eventually translate into leadership ability.”

– Harvey Mackay

Professional Development

Sadly, curiosity is such a rare quality that it will set you apart professionally. A curious mind in the workplace has an unfair advantage over one that doesn’t demonstrate a similar level of interest.

I won’t belabor this particular point, I simply wanted to highlight it as yet another advantage of harnessing curiosity.

 

“When you meet people, show real appreciation, then genuine curiosity.”

– Martha Beck

Build Better Relationships

Genuine curiosity will lead to genuine relationships. I’m always surprised by the lack of inquisitiveness the average person demonstrates towards other people.

It reminds me of this scene from Fight Club: Ed Norton, who plays the Narrator, has been attending a variety of terminal illness support groups. But when a woman, Marla Singer, begins to show up in each of the support groups, the Narrator is forced to verbalize why he attends these groups despite not actually being terminally ill.

Narrator: When people think you’re dying, they really listen to you, instead of just…

Marla Singer: – instead of just waiting for their turn to speak?

It’s amazing what showing a genuine interest in someone’s life will do. Be curious about others. Everyone is fascinating in his or her own way, and curiosity is the key to unlocking this mystery.

When Curiosity Dies in a Marriage, so does the Marriage

Finally, I wanted to touch on the necessity of bringing curiosity into your marriage. Meeting someone new, getting to know them, and falling in love is an amazing journey. One I wish for both of you someday.

After the excitement of falling in love fades curiosity will propel you to a happy and healthy marriage. Curiosity will help you understand during a conflict. It will help you stay current with one another when the years change you. In short, curiosity will keep your marriage alive.

Final Thoughts

I’ve prattled on for long enough. You get my point: don’t stop being curious about the world, the people in it and least of all about yourself. Don’t allow others to squash your natural curiosity. It is an amazing tool and if you learn to use it right it will serve you well for the rest of your life.

Love Dad

 

Let me know what you think? Hopefully, I didn’t offend anyone with this one. Where my comments fair about schools and faith institutions not always being allies of curiosity? Did I miss any other benefits you can think of? I’d love to hear from you!

2 Comments

  1. This is what I call an epic post. Nobody should feel offended, because institutions (be school or church) do this very often. Same happened with my cousin when she asked the nun what do angels eat at heaven? However I am a sinner also just like you every sometimes, but generally I want to do my best to encourage this skill in my daughter and moreover I try to regain my own curiosity through hers. As you said it is an important skill at all areas of life, should not be discouraged. Kudos for the Fight Club scene, one of the best movies ever IMO.

Leave a Reply