Einstein said ‘I have no special talents I am only passionately curious.’
While Eleanor Roosevelt said ’I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity’.
As we know curiosity killed the cat but it would also appear that while cats and other animals are curious about what is in the box or outside the door, they don’t take it that step further and wonder what makes it work, why does it do that, what will happen next.
Observations of child development show that humans are born curious, babies will point at things that interest them, toddlers endlessly ask Why is the sky blue?. If this curiosity is not supported and encouraged they will soon stop, we quickly learn if an activity doesn’t get us what we want and need and find other things to do.
Ian Leslie in ‘Curious’-the desire to know & why your future depends on it' (Quercus 2014) describes some research looking at children who were falling out of school and education and he suggests that many of these families, didn’t know how to ask questions or what questions to ask, they had become defeated by poverty, unemployment, and social exclusion. It would seem that If parents are able to engage in conversations with their children asking questions, responding to their questions, then those children are more likely to retain their curiosity and develop a sense of power in their world. he suggests that children who learn that language can be used for exploration and discovery as well as control, are more likely to become questioning and ‘cognitively able.
Curiosity isn’t just an endless quest for the new and different, or problem solving. It is about channelling that interest and pursuing topics more deeply, finding out more and more about something, asking how and why and when. This kind of curiosity brings rewards of greater understanding, of a sense of personal power and control-I can find out about things, make informed decisions and make changes in my world.
Autocrats of course hate people bring curious because they sense that it undermines their attempt to create a sense total power for themselves. This sense relies on the fact that nobody dares to question their power.
Psychotherapy is, in my view, designed to support the development of this sense of curiosity. A curiosity about our selves, and ourselves in relations to other people. It strives to encourage people to ask questions and seek understanding of why they respond in different ways, what experiences mean to them, how this impacts on them and their relationships with the world around them.