’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’. Curiosity is something that fascinates many of us and is more often talked about as a useful resource for humans.
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 that if an activity doesn’t get us what we want and need we will find other things to do.
Ian Leslie in ‘Curious’ 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 channeling 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 agency - I can find out about things, make informed decisions, and make changes in my world.
Autocrats of course hate people bring curious because they know that it undermines their attempt to take total power for themselves. They attempt to control access to information so the people they are ruling will accept their word, their mandate about ‘reality’. I shall never forget some Albanian friends telling me that they were brought up, in the time of Enva Hoja, believing, or at least being constantly told , that the West was preparing to invade at any moment, to ‘steal’ the natural resources they were so proud of.
Psychotherapy, in my view, supports and in a sense depends on, the development of this sense of curiosity. A curiosity about ourselves, and ourselves in relations to other people. It encourages 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. This curiosity then enables us to find new ways of understanding the world and ways of making it feel like a safer place for us to be.
Ian Leslie. Curious. The desire to know and why your future depends on it. Quercus Books 2014