The Importance of Curiosity

Right now, I’m imagining a big red button. Next to that button is an important-looking sign: “DO NOT PRESS!”

What do you do?

I know what I’m doing. I’m looking at that button, desperate to press it. The only thing that’s holding me back is the unlikely possibility that I’ve telepathically linked to the US nuclear arsenal and that this could end badly. But I want to press that button. The button wants me to press the button. The button is, sooner or later, getting pressed.

So, to those people who’d press it, despite the sign saying otherwise, I have one question: Why?

My answer to that is simple – I want to see what that button does. It might open a door. It might change the TV channel. It might set off an alarm. It might launch those nuclear missiles I mentioned, I don’t know. But it’s better to know than not know, right? I don’t care if the word ‘curiosity’ is derived from the Latin for ‘careful’, just press that stupid button!!!

“Curiosity is lying in wait for every secret,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson, which is an idea I can get behind. Curiosity is one of the driving forces behind human discovery – what if Galileo had never bothered to look through his telescope? What if Moses had just ignored that burning bush? That drive, the passion that makes you look at something and then want to find out the story behind it, has changed the world thousands of times. In that sense, curiosity is one of our chief emotions.

In the US, the company Skillshare has launched a video manifesto entitled ‘The Future Belongs to the Curious’, asking us to see learning as a more natural, organic, communal thing than education sometimes makes it. After all, while qualifications are valuable, they can’t be the be all and end all of education, simply because learning is something intrinsic to our everyday lives. We learn to drive, learn to cook, learn to fix things, learn how to have relationships. The trick is to build on that, to not just develop skills that help us survive but which also help us grow as individuals. If you’re interested in learning how to play the riff from Sweet Child o’ Mine then go ahead and do it. If you want to learn flower arranging, then heck, I could probably put you in touch with someone who could help you out. Go for it. You’ll be happier as a result.

(And this is before we get onto the sneakier skills, like how to MacGyver day-to-day objects to do something they weren’t supposed to. Check out Lifehacker!)

I’ll admit I sometimes allow my curiosity to wither on the vine – I think it’s related to how I sometimes stop reading, despite loving books. But despite this annoying tendency I still wander what’s behind that door, what’s over that hill, what that strange building in the middle of nowhere is, what happens when you press that button. I think a lot of us are like that. Maybe we just need to embrace that more and see where it takes us. After all, it once took us to the stars.

(PS. I’ve just found out that Jedward tweeted in 140 characters what it took me a whole post to say: “BIG RED BUTTON! What the sign says: DO NOT PUSH. What we read! PUSH when people are not around.” I’m not sure how I feel about that…)



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