June 2012

Curiosity

Curiosity has been variously described as “free-wheeling intelligence” (Alistair Cooke), “the secret of great creative people” (Leo Burnett), and “one of the great secrets of happiness” (Bryant H. McGill). For me, it’s also a vital component of excellence. 

As Mark Edmundson, a professor of English and author of Why Read?, pointed out in a recent Op-Ed piece in The New York Times (“Education’s Hungry Hearts”), the eagerness to learn far outweighs aptitude in determining which students will do best. 

Curiosity also lies at the heart of science, of course. All the great discoveries start with questions: Why do apples fall? What happens when you heat a chunk of rock? Just how far away are the stars?

It’s true that not all forms of curiosity are noble. Busybodies and gossips have heavy doses of it, and we all know where that leads.

Obviously, trying to find something out in a spirit of pettiness is a very different matter from seeking to understand it.

But curiosity in the sense of being open to new ideas and new experiences is a powerful ally. In my eyes, it matters not just because it lies at the heart of progress, or even because it keeps your mind alive…but because it sustains your sense of wonder.

Curiosity is what makes you see things, not just look at them…what makes you really want to listen, rather than just waiting for the other person to stop talking…what makes you an active participant, not a mere spectator, in the world around you.