And one thing I know about curiosity: it’s democratic. Anyone, anywhere, of any age or education level, can use it.—Brian Grazer
I love concepts and ideas. They energize me. But at some point ideas must be broken down into workable pieces, bits that people can do something with; otherwise they aren’t worth much. You just read ten chapters of ideas. Yes, there were examples and a few stories scattered throughout but not much in the way of instruction. So this is my best effort at telling you how to do curiosity.
Curiosity doesn’t have a recipe. It’s not like baking cookies. If it was, it wouldn’t be very curious, would it?
Curiosity differs for everyone. Some people are finders and connectors. Some people are miners who go deep on a single subject and drill to great depths. Both need the other and benefit from their respective differences. For some people, curiosity is highly relational; for some it’s actionable, and for some it’s conceptual. Again, each is good and according to the gifts and propensities God has given them. The list that follows seeks to offer practical steps for curiosity of any cut, color, or kind.
If you believe the world is uninteresting, it will be for you. And you will miss everything amazing going on around you. You will miss all the amazing people and ideas and natural occurrences and creation. To be interested is a decision because our natural inclination is to shrink life to something manageable whereas being interested expands life dramatically. We must assume that God did not make a boring world. To assume He did would be to dishonor Him. And if He didn’t make a boring world, who are we to live as if it were not worth our attention? Make the decision to tune in.
Do not assume anyone or anything has nothing to offer you. If God made it, then it has value; and if it is a person, then he or she bears God’s imprint the same as you. It is arrogance to treat anyone or anything as valueless and uninteresting. If, then, all created things have value and hold interest, we should ask questions, and only humble people are free to do this. Asking questions is an admission of ignorance and a tacit statement of need. Pride abhors this stance. Proud people are embarrassed to ask questions and to look vulnerable. Pride kills curiosity more quickly than anything. So foster humility by constantly looking at the expanse of God, His creation, and all you don’t yet know about it.
Looking is not the same as seeing. Seeing develops with time, like an infant learning to track a parent’s finger then see a face then see the room. Looking is the intentional exercise of doing just that—viewing the world, glancing about, seeing what there is to see. It is a habit of trying to see . . . something. You know it is there—whatever it is—because you know God made a complex, fascinating world and it never fails to offer something about which to be curious. Before you can notice, you must be looking; so make a habit of it. Look at the people around you, the weather, the architecture of your city, the topography of your county, something. Try to notice something you’ve missed day in and day out on your commute to work or in your neighborhood—the neighbor’s funky window shades, that office building just off the freeway that looks like a prison, how the flow of traffic differs at 6:00 a.m. versus 6:30 a.m. Until you begin looking and noticing things of little significance, you’ll never develop the ability to see more significant things.
Listening is looking with your ears. It is tuning in to the voices and the soundtrack and sound effects of your world. Every day you hear thousands of words and noises. You hear phrases that are funny, but you don’t notice them. You hear accents, but you can’t place them or imitate them. You hear sirens but don’t know if they’re from a fire engine or a police car. A snippet of information or an inspirational quote rolls right out of that podcast and past you because you tuned out. The old guy at the table next to you at the diner has the funniest figures of speech, but none that come to mind right now. A coworker told a really funny story, like so funny your ribs hurt from laughing, about . . . something. Every morning you walk to your car and miss the song the dove is singing or the breeze is playing. You need to develop the habit of listening the same way you develop the habit of looking. Too much is happening around you not to notice and tune in.
We have terrible memories. How many times have you told yourself, “I’ll take care of that when I get home from work” only to forget that you had anything to take care of, let alone what it was? How often do you walk into a room to do something, but what was it again? All the looking and listening will accomplish nothing at all unless we take note of it, or should I say take notes of it. Write down your observations. Use your phone or a notebook or a napkin or something. I use Evernote on my phone and computer or Apple’s Notes app. They are my preference because they’re easy and they sync between devices. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes about always taking note cards with her to jot down things that catch her ear or eye—a scene, a phrase, a sound. Regardless of your method or the implements you use, just take notes. The more you write, the more you will notice and the more you will remember, which will lead to connections between observations. That’s when curiosity becomes fruitful beyond simply the collection of disparate observations.
Questions are the currency of curiosity. But unlike other currency there is no withdrawal limit and they multiply themselves. Spend liberally. Do not be embarrassed to ask; remember that asking someone an honest question (assuming you aren’t interrupting or otherwise being rude) shows respect to their expertise and their personal story. Asking someone a question honors them, so ask away. Ask individuals so you can hear their perspectives. Ask experts so you can hear the details and depth. Ask resources (books, Google, documentaries, etc.) to get facts. Ask yourself to see if you really understand and where your blind spots are. In any situation come with a few questions prepared. They can even be stock questions for new people you meet. I promise that if you bring a few decent, interested questions and ask them humbly, more questions will reveal themselves and answers will be forthcoming.
Go and Explore
It takes a conscientious decision to step outside our lane, to get out of the wheel rut our life rolls down. But curiosity demands it. Otherwise our discoveries will be limited to our daily life and be relegated to mere ideas because we can do nothing about them. Exploring might mean crossing the street or it might mean crossing the ocean. What it must mean is stretching ourselves and likely getting uncomfortable. Some people will travel the world, but many people simply need to discover other neighborhoods in their own city. Going means saying yes to new opportunities—a job or position, a short-term mission trip, white-water rafting, a new Vietnamese restaurant, deep-sea fishing, playing tennis for the first time. New is scary for many of us, but we must remember that we are curious in pursuit of God’s truth and in pursuit of connecting other people to it as well. That hope and aim will overcome much fear.
Trying is like exploring but can be done much closer to home. It is less about geography and more about experiences. Try a new recipe for dinner every week or two, maybe something Indian or Vietnamese or otherwise outside your normal palate. Try conversing with neighbors you’ve waved to but never engaged. Try listening to a new band or reading a new genre of books. Try a new hobby. Commit to it; don’t just test it out once. Try until you learn or have an experience to record. The easiest thing in life is to fall into a pattern of life that becomes stale. Trying things keeps things fresh without demanding a passport or mountain climbing gear.
Books are a universe unto themselves. They transport readers to different times and places, to worlds that exist only in an imagination, to the life of another person altogether, to concepts and ideas. Books are information and stories and inspiration and instruction. I am preaching to the choir here since you, dear reader, are a reader. But I simply do not understand people who do not read (or listen if reading is a particular hardship as in the case of dyslexia). To not read is to the mind as not eating is to the body. If you have not been a regular reader, that is okay! Start somewhere and build. Each year seek to read a little more than you did the year before. Try to read a few minutes a day, maybe ten or fifteen. You will find that you consume far more pages and books than you imagined possible. Don’t worry about people who write “The Top Fifty Books I Read Last Year” blog posts. Just compete with yourself, to improve, to absorb, to consume. And try different genres. If you love nonfiction, mix in a novel. If you love fiction, mix in a biography. If you love war history, mix in theology. If you love theology, mix in a business book. Feed your mind a balanced diet so it can grow healthy and strong.
Always Return to Scripture
Curiosity is about God and for God. It is an expression of worship and it honors Him by exploring the depths and breadth of His creation and nature. If we are to do something that honors God, then we must know Him, and Scripture is where He reveals Himself, where He tells what we need to know for a right and vibrant relationship with Him. For this reason Scripture is where our curiosity should be directed first and most consistently, not as a book or a text or a resource but as a revelation of our Creator. We should apply every step—look, listen, record, ask, explore, try, and read—to it with rigor and constancy. Without Scripture all our other curiosity is at great risk of pursuing falsehood. Scripture is our plumb line, our compass. Every discovery we make can be stacked up against it to gauge truth or falsehood. Of course Scripture does not have explicit words on all things science, entertainment, and culture. But it tells us all we need to know of souls, attitudes, and God’s character to judge right from wrong and healthy from unhealthy. So we must, must, return to it time and again.
As I said at the beginning, this is not a recipe for curiosity. These are elements of curiosity, ingredients which can be mixed in various quantities with two exceptions: we must always be humble and we must always rely on Scripture. Other than those two, mix and match and sequence and build. This is not a step-by-step process, though some ingredients are more foundational for the beginner than others. My simple hope is that what I have offered here will prove to be some practical entry ways and encouragements for the person seeking to become more intentionally curious.
Excerpted from The Curious Christian (B&H) by Barnabas Piper, out March 1, 2017.