Curiosity Can Build a Better World

January 12, 2007
Discover the value of asking questions no matter where you are.

Jeep crossing shallow creekThe first thing you may notice in this picture is that there’s no steering wheel on the left side of the vehicle. That’s because we’re in Australia where they drive on the other side of the road. Eventually I got used to it, but it took me a long time to look to the right before stepping off the curb.

You may also notice that we’re about to head into something green. That’s water. But don’t worry. We have 4WD. Besides, the stream wasn’t really that deep on a special Wilderness Eco Safari that goes through rainforest on roads in restricted access areas not visited by most tours. (If you’re ever in the area, you should look them up.)

The third thing you may notice is that I’ve taken the picture sitting right behind the driver. That’s one of my favorite places to sit on a bus or van. Not only does it offer the best views, it gives me a chance to easily ask all kinds of questions. Asking questions is something I’ve always done. It seems perfectly natural to be curious and inquisitive about all kinds of things.

In fact, I have been told by others that they like going on trips with me because I’m not afraid to ask questions. They say they learn a lot more with me than they would if I weren’t along. I’m certainly not shy. Why should I be? I don’t plan to go to that part of Australia again, so why not get first-hand information from someone experienced in topics about which I am uninformed?

Of course, there were several times when we weren’t near the front of the tour bus for some reason. Then we had to sit farther back where the driver/guide couldn’t hear me. When that happened, I just looked out the window and absorbed as much as I could from comments the guide would periodically make over the loudspeaker about points of interest we were passing.

What surprised me was that very few people asked questions; they seemed to be content to accept what he chose to talk about and didn’t seem curious about anything else. At least they weren’t interested enough to voice their questions.

Why? We’re born with curiosity. A little child is a naturally self-motivated learner. She will drive her parents crazy with a thousand questions. She’ll keep asking until she receives a satisfactory answer. Unfortunately, something happens after many of us grow up. We lose that intense curiosity. We’re reticent to probe for more information than we’re given.

Do we not ask questions because we’re afraid if we do so we’ll be thought stupid for not knowing what we wish we had learned long ago? Is it because in school the focus is on having students learn the “correct” answers rather than on asking questions? Are we bombarded every day with so much information that we’re afraid if we ask questions we’ll get more information we don’t have the energy to absorb? Or is our lack of questioning because we have accepted a religious or philosophical point of view that claims to have all the answers and any further questions would upset the comfort we have in what we already believe?

During our month-long vacation Down Under, I thought about the hesitance people feel in asking questions and suspected that not being willing to ask questions lies at the center of many of the world’s woes.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more of us were concerned about the direction the world, or at least our lives, are going; curious about what we can do about it; courageous enough to challenge our most strongly held assumptions; and caring enough to do something about the answers we  receive.

So if those goals are important to you, ask yourself the following questions:

If you are someone who hesitates asking questions when you’re in a group, why do you think that is so?

What would you have to change in yourself to ask more questions about things for which you would like answers?

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