First Words

Curiosity is holy

Children are good at asking questions that build relationship.

After years of interviewing people for radio, employment, and various journalistic projects, I’ve decided that incurious people do not make great conversation partners. To be absent of curiosity is to display a lack of interest in others, even if unintentionally so. It’s difficult to build a close friendship with someone who places a low priority on getting to know your world. Knowledge or information may get shared. But if the other person doesn’t take joy in creating a welcoming space for you to flourish, the conversation struggles to ever get rolling.

Psychiatrist Alfred Margulies once proposed that wonder is what’s really required to understand another human being. Wonder, he wrote, “promotes a searching attitude of simultaneously knowing and not knowing.” It blends astonishment with curiosity, a winsome combination that ends up fostering a deep appreciation of the other. Wonder and curiosity keep us from behaving as if we have other people figured out.

The opposite of this searching attitude plays out in much of the political reasoning that partisan bias stimulates in our day. Dan Kahan, professor of law and psychology at Yale University, has shown that pitching information and analysis to people for the sake of altering their political viewpoint usually further entrenches their deeply held beliefs. The one antidote to this politically motivated reasoning, Kahan argues, is curiosity. A curiosity mind-set opens one up to exploration and surprise that extends well beyond the desire to confirm one’s own beliefs.