I am in Woods Hole in the US with our son and we were chatting over a cup of hot coffee yesterday evening, while it was sub-zero outside. And as often happens, I start giving him advice and he then gives me advice on why I should give less advice! But he also mentioned something else. “Dad, you don’t talk much about what you do, but you are always asking others what they do?” And that’s what I am going to do in this blog – give advice (I will never learn!) on being curious.
I come from a long line of curious men. I remember my grandfather in the Margao market when I was a kid. We were in a shop and he kept asking the shopkeeper the prices of various items. The owner got irritated after a while and asked my avo (which is Portuguese for ‘grandfather’; that’s what we called him, one of the handful of Portuguese words I know) why he was checking on so many prices. Avo replied, “I am seeing how the prices compare to those in Bangalore.” The owner then asked him what the prices were in Bangalore, and of course my avo had no idea. He was just curious (or just bored because he was dragged to the market). So being curious is in my genes.
Many years back when our son was preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation, the parish priest complained to me, “Khashiff asks too many questions in class.” My response was, “So what’s the problem? Shouldn’t kids ask questions and challenge what the priest says?” Maybe I should have replied, “Can’t help it. It’s in his genes!” I love it when people ask questions. It shows that they are interested and want to learn more.
One of my friends, who has regularly been coming to me for advice over the past ten years, jokes, “When I ask Luis for advice, he ends up only asking me a lot of questions.” And the reason is very clear. I often do not know the answers she is looking for. But by asking her the right questions, she can come up with the answers herself because she knows the subject better than I do. I used to have a Chicago Booth mug that said “Challenge Everything”. And not challenge because you are a jerk, but because you are interested in the topic and want to know more. You do not need to come out as rude or angry when you challenge everything, but that’s for another blog.
Why am I curious? Because I do not know all the answers. Because I always want to know more (especially if it is totally irrelevant). Because I love to know what interesting stuff other people are doing. Because most people love to be asked what they do. Because I strongly believe that some of these random nuggets of information will have some use later (assuming I remember them). Because it’s in my genes.
I remember a fabulous conversation in 1987 outside the Rome train station. I had no money for a hotel room and so slept on a platform bench until the cops threw me out because the station was closed for the night. I met an Italian carpenter in a bar next door and he spent the night telling me about life as a carpenter in Canada (where he learnt English) and Italy (where he couldn’t get a job). He was heading to Germany the next morning to look for a job and also had no money for a hotel room. I learnt so much about life in rural Italy that evening. My genetically-induced curiosity lead to a fascinating conversation that night, but the beers unfortunately made me forget nearly everything the next morning.
Curiosity led us to a most interesting New Year’s celebration in Havana in the tiny home of a just-released convict. And curiosity led us to see the 10,000 year-old cave paintings of Bhimbetka, in Central India. And curiosity led me to spend time with some fascinating people at organisations like CORO, Centre for Civil Society, Sunbird Trust and 17000 Ft Foundation.
Here’s why you should be curious, according to Emily Campbell, of UC Berkeley.
- Curiosity helps us survive
- Curious people are happier
- Curiosity boosts achievement
- Curiosity can expand our empathy
- Curiosity helps strengthen relationships
- Curiosity improves healthcare
Christopher Hsee, of Chicago Booth, in describing his work on curiosity, adds, “Our research sheds light on why humans, including scientists, seek information such as how to manipulate the human genome and how to develop new weapons of mass destruction. The obvious reason for these activities is to benefit ourselves, e.g., to improve our health and our security. But is it also possible that humans pursue these activities just in order to satisfy our curiosity without sufficient attention to potential risks?”
So, go ahead and be curious. Campbell says you will be happier. She and Hsee make no mention of cats getting killed. My avo must be smiling up in heaven, asking all newcomers about the latest prices before they died.
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