Tag Archives: advantages and benefits of curiosity

Day 356 – A natural phenomenon

There’s nothing like a natural phenomenon to stir up the old curiosity. Yesterday, New England experienced a more complete solar eclipse than, I believe, the year that I turned 12 (which was a long time ago!). This offered lots of opportunities to practice curiosity.

First, there was the search for details, mainly when. Then came the search for instructions on how to make a pinhole camera. Then there were the camera assembly and testing phases. Then there was the waiting. I had made a mental note that the start, at least in New York City–was at 1:23 p.m. and the peak at 2:44. Imagining that I would be able to see the moment the moon entered the sun’s light I was outside with my pinhole camera at about 1:20.

First hurdle: I couldn’t see any difference to the sun the first ten minutes or so and got impatient. Mainly, I thought my camera wasn’t working or my eyes weren’t sensitive enough and I was going to miss the whole thing. Finally, I thought I saw a difference. Then I knew I saw a difference. From then on, I was hooked. I didn’t watch without a break, but I did keep coming back to see the progress.

Some things I noticed:

  • It got noticeably cooler as the eclipse progressed to its peak.
  • The blue of the sky seemed less intense.
  • The shadows seemed less distinct.
  • The clouds, which had been moving at quite a pace, seemed to slow down.
  • It got very quiet. The wind died. The birds and the insects stopped chirping.

Somehow I had expected the moon to go across the face of the sun horizontally and was surprised that it started at the top righthand corner and moved diagonally down. (That was one reason it took me a while to recognize that something was changing. I was looking in the wrong place.)

I had also thought that the moment the peak had been reached I would go for a walk with my dog. Instead I found the second half of the eclipse just as enthralling as the first half, and my poor dog had to wait.

All in all, it took two and half hours from start to finish (you cannot rush a celestial event). I consider that an afternoon very well spent.

Day 343 – Eating anchovies

A couple of years ago I did a course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). One of the mindfulness exercises was eating a raisin mindfully, which was fine for me because I like raisins. One person though had long had an aversion to raisins and was skeptical about the benefit of eating even one raisin. He reported afterwards that it wasn’t as bad as he had expected. Apparently, using all his senses and seeing the raisin as an exercise helped him.

Well, we are having Salade Nicoise for lunch, which has anchovies in it. In the spirit of curiosity practice, I ate an anchovy mindfully, even though I’m the kind of person who doesn’t even want someone else’s pizza half with anchovies on it in the same carton as my half with other things. I decided to look at the situation as a chance to practice curiosity, to remain open and not judge. I focused on what I tasted rather than what my opinion was of what I tasted. The anchovy was just as salty and fishy as I remembered and it wasn’t a great pleasure to eat it, but approaching it that way did help.

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 105 – Missed opportunities

Today I missed a number of opportunities to be curious. I hardly left the seminar hotel, I didn’t dig too deeply when a participant proposed a new activity, I ate comfort food, and I am reading a book I know will have a happy ending. May I do better tomorrow, because I suspect it will bring me positive energy and maybe even delight.

Day 099 – Today’s curiosity practice

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.