Author Archives: ecbinvienna

About ecbinvienna

E.C. Brown grew up in New England and has lived in Vienna, Austria, for over 25 years.

Day 300 – A culinary (if you can call it that) test of curiosity

Day 300 already! Only 65 days left. I must start pulling up my socks and really practicing curiosity. Less thinking and writing about it.

Today I actually did just that. I was browsing through Facebook and saw a post from a friend of mine asking, “Are peanut butter and mayo really as good together as everyone says?” I found myself thinking first “Who on earth says that? I’ve never heard it before” and then “Sounds gross” and then “There’s only one way to find out.”

Immediately following those thoughts came “It is my Year of Living Curiously. Maybe I should just be brave and test it.” I even had mayo in the house, which I usually don’t. (I always have peanut butter.) So in the name of curiosity, I had a piece of toast for lunch with peanut butter and mayo on it.

Was it as good as “everyone says”? I couldn’t say. I don’t know how good it is supposed to be. What I can say is that it is not as gross as it sounds. I found it kind of nondescript, the mayo kind of diluting the distinctive flavor of the peanut butter. One thing, though, the mayo, being slippery, did make the peanut butter stick less to the roof of my mouth. That’s something, I suppose.

Day 299 – The flow of conversation

Sometimes the flow of conversation doesn’t make it easy to practice curiosity in an active way. That said, it can provide a forum for a gentle, ongoing kind of curiosity. Yesterday I spent a couple of hours talking with old friends (one of whom was the recipient of the somewhat failed birthday cake) in a lovely, rambling conversation, one topic leading to another. We listened to each other and asked questions in an unforced way. That, perhaps, too, counts as curiosity.

Day 297 – A more nuanced picture

Warning–a long and fairly theory-rich post!

I found myself thinking about my tendency to see things in black and white terms–good/bad, desirable/undesirable, right/wrong. The funny thing is that I have always been able to see many sides to an issue, but I have also always known which side I came down on. And ultimately I reject the other side.

At the same time, I encourage my students and workshop participants to try to see actions or cultural dimensions in terms of advantages and disadvantages and preferences and priorities rather than good and bad, right and wrong.

AN INTERCULTURAL EXAMPLE

Individualism (a cultural dimension)

A few advantages of individualism: personal freedom with all the associated advantages to that like living where you want to, studying what you want to, dressing the way you want to, and less responsibility to other people (like personally taking care of your aging parents).

A few disadvantages of individualism: a negative attitude to people who need support which can make it impossible for some people to reach a level where they can take care of themselves and their closest family members as well as an emphasis on doing everything yourself and taking care of yourself without help, which can lead to exhaustion, burnout, and failure.

Collectivism (another cultural dimension, the counterpart to individualism)

A few advantages of collectivism: community support for the individuals in the group–a belief in helping people up, a belief that you don’t have to be everything and do everything by yourself, and an acknowledgement of a person’s place in the group that does not end because the person’s usefulness is gone.

A few disadvantages of collectivism: a lack of freedom to determine your own life’s path, which means you may be expected to take over the family business whether or not you are interested in it, or to marry based on what fits with your family, or to contribute to community charities not necessarily based on your own personal interests.

When I talk about preferences and priorities I mean that groups (culture is always a group phenomenon) over the generations jointly build up a system of beliefs and values based on what works for the group. This system has at its core certain preferences and priorities. These preferences and priorities are handed on to new members through the process of socialization. Culture clash happens when these underlying preferences and priorities are not in agreement, like when my Austrian students–working from a collectivist standpoint in this situation–look at the fight against universal healthcare in the U.S.A.–in most things a strongly individualist culture–and simply cannot comprehend why anyone would not want to have something that in their eyes is so obviously humane and beneficial to everyone.

On a less theoretical, more fun note: I’ve been re-reading Alexander McCall Smith’s wonderful series set in Botswana, The Nr. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. The “traditional Botswana values” his heroine, Mma Ramotswe, keeps referring to are a beautiful example of collectivism, and the culture changes she sees–and disapproves of–are almost invariably individualistic.

THE POINT 😉

This morning it struck me that practicing this simple shift of seeing advantages and disadvantages rather than right and wrong is an exercise in curiosity and may open up a more constructive way of interacting with other people and with situations (part of my hypothesis, if you remember).

Although I’ve been doing this kind of analysis in the classroom for a number of years, I don’t do it very often in “real life”. In the context of writing this blog, I can imagine using it more often as a form of curiosity practice.

One final note: I’m not sure I would have reached this point if I hadn’t been writing this blog. This is the kind of progress that I hoped the daily commitment to writing about living curiously would help me make and I am very happy about this today.

Day 295 – Trying to stay open

I was at a concert this evening, thanks to the generosity of a friend who couldn’t use her ticket. It had a lot of the right ingredients to transport me but didn’t, and, yes, I feel that is partly the fault of the singer–from the song choices on the first half of the program, to the almost total lack of diction, to her scooping and singing flat quite a bit of the time.

Ordinarily, I become incredibly judgmental, especially because she is world famous and singing on the greatest stages of the world. This time, because it is the Year of Living Curiously, I tried to turn that around. I told myself that she is world famous so there must be a reason, and I listened and watched to see if I could find the reason. Honestly, while the second half of the program suited her and her voice much better, I couldn’t figure it out. This approach felt different though. It felt as if I had been fair and as if I could try again, recognizing that perhaps she was having a bad night or is better on the opera stage. I won’t go out of my way to hear her again, but I won’t go out of my way to not hear her again either.

Day 294 – Trying something new

Today I tried something I’ve been curious about, but a bit wary of, for a number of years now–I went for a session of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). I don’t know if practicing curiosity for almost ten months helped me overcome the wariness, but overcome it I did.

I’m still making sense of what we worked on and how we worked on it. One thing I would like to say is that I’m very glad I did overcome my wariness and tried it out. It was refreshing and helpful. The other thing is that it has elements of River curiosity–you start out with one topic, but you don’t really know where you will end up. You are carried along by the flow of the session.