As I describe what I am counting as today’s curiosity practice, some of my readers may think I am stretching my definition of curiosity very wide indeed. I’d like to explain. One reason I want to engage intentionally with curiosity this year is that I see it as a basis for responsiveness, which I define as “the ability to respond fluently and effectively to unexpected and / or unusual events, where an event can be another person’s behavior, a natural disaster, an impending accident, a happy surprise, etc. ”
I added “happy surprise” as I was writing this because what occurred this morning was an unexpected and pleasant exchange with someone that wouldn’t have happened, or at least wouldn’t have been so pleasant, if I hadn’t been open to it and consciously unconcerned about the outcome.
The scene: I was walking with my dog this morning on our usual route, which includes a small section that is “Hundeverbot” (presumably even people who do not speak German can tell that this means “Dogs forbidden”). Knowing that it has become “Hundeverbot” in the last few years means that I am a little on the defensive when we walk through there. (Note: Defensiveness is usually a curiosity killer.) We walked past someone working on a construction site who was looking at my dog in a way that was difficult to interpret. He said something to me, it took me a moment to understand what he had said, but then–and this is where the responsiveness comes in–I was able to judge his mood and respond in kind. We ended up having a very brief but pleasant exchange.
What he said, upon seeing my dog’s coat, was, “You forgot his gloves.” I replied, “It needs to be a few degrees colder and then he gets a woolly hat to wear as well.” Smiles on both sides. He went back to work. My dog and I went home to breakfast.
What’s special about this? The answer to that has a lot to do with who I am. Before (and often even at) breakfast, I am not very talkative, and I’m never someone who walks down the street looking for chances to speak with complete strangers. I’m a classic introvert. I love to talk to my friends (and they will tell you I can talk a lot and very animatedly), but that is it. Random conversations with strangers are concessions I make to etiquette and civility. In this case, it set me up for the day.