Be More Curious

I’m not usually a big fan of New Years Resolutions. They’re always about losing weight, going on a diet you don’t want, paying for a gym membership you’ll never use, and in general they’re forgotten before the end of January. But this year I wanted to make a resolution, one broad enough to cover many different areas of my life, but specific enough to be achievable.

I resolved to Be More Curious.

I hoped this call would lead to more interesting photoshoot ideas, or more ideas in general — I have been feeling a dearth of exciting creativity lately. I wanted to challenge myself to learn new things, useful or not. I wanted to soak up knowledge the way I had when I was in college. If I could learn new things at that rate forever, wouldn’t that be amazing?

Turns out, being actively curious is more difficult than you’d expect. After asking Google why cats purr (no one knows) and why can’t anything go faster than light (Einstein said so), I began to run out of questions. What else could I ask?

I believe this is a fundamentally adult problem. If you’ve ever met a three-year-old, you know that they never run out of questions. Children are filled with curiosity, but somehow when we become adults we become self-conscious. We’re embarrassed to ask because we’re embarrassed to admit that we don’t know. Children will ask you why the Big Bad Wolf wanted to eat the little pigs; adults will accept it as a fact of the story.

This is one of the reasons why, by the way, I wanted to increase my curiosity. I wanted to learn not to hold back those questions, to not be afraid to be one of today’s lucky 10,000. But the first problem I hit wasn’t that I was ashamed or embarrassed by my questions, it’s that I didn’t have any questions to begin with.

How could I not have questions? To be fair, there were questions, but they were all boring, practical questions — how much are train tickets to DC? ($75) and what time’s the next bus? (15 minutes from now) — not interesting questions, questions like What would happen if you were to make a small planet out of moles? (it would cook in the middle). I’m 23, surely the wonder can’t have drained from my life already. Why couldn’t I think of questions to ask the world? Eventually I gave up trying to think of a pithy question to ask, and went about business as usual–

And, well, it turns out (and some of you might know this) that when you try to force yourself to think of something, it can be hard to come up with ideas, but when you let your mind wander — and wander it will — ideas will float to the surface. On the bus I’d think of something I never really understood in school; waiting in line I’d wonder about the latest bit of pop science I’d picked up. I found myself writing questions on scraps of paper to look up later. And these questions, as I’d hoped they would, led me to new questions, and from those further on still. What is the tragedy of the commons? What is a zeugma? I learned that questions aren’t always pithy, and the answers aren’t always interesting. I learned that, like creativity, curiosity couldn’t be forced but could — and even had to be — practiced.

As I’ve fallen into this occasional odd research, my knowledge about the world has grown, even in just small ways. I learn (and immediately forget) all sorts of interesting facts. I’ve learned the word zeugma, which would be great if I ever played Scrabble. I’ve run into a few fairytales I’d forgotten. And, yes, I’ve had a few photoshoot ideas.

It’s not unpleasant, this curiosity business. I might even recommend it. So, in honor of this resolution: what are you curious about?

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