Curiosity: An Innate Drive that Just Might Save Us

When riding my bike, drivers will occasionally beep their car horns and flip me the bird as we glide past one another. A handful of years ago my knee-jerk reaction was to attribute the driver’s anger to his – it usually is a man, but not always – character. “What an a**hole.” I would think all too often.

Then I started studying people’s decisions and motivations about traveling and getting around.

Ironically, now that I know a ton more about transportation, I recognize how little I really know about the subject. Before I knew why the driver flipped me off. Now I truly wonder why.

It’s not hard to find people with all the answers. People who tell us why others don’t care about climate change, how most humans are inherently selfish, why religious belief persists in the face of scientific discovery.

And then there are inquisitive people. People who ask sincere questions. Constantly. People with advanced academic degrees in specialized fields who claim to know “next to nothing” about their chosen fields.  My colleague, a 40-year veteran of transportation engineering, recently told me that “we’re just beginning to understand why people speed when driving.” You mean you don’t have the answer?

We’re so enamored with the “cult of expertise“, we expect experts to have all the answers. Perhaps this expectation is misguided.

An openness to knowing more, a naiveté about everyday encounters is what advances knowledge – and creativity. Not a conviction that we know “enough” or “all there is to know.” It’s about being incessantly curious about our world.

And part of this worldly curiosity involves wondering about the people in our lives. When we question who they are, what they like and why, we develop deeper, more accepting relationships.  This open-ended wonder about the other also encourages us to learn more about our non-human brethren.

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When we learn about and get to know the local plants and animals and rocks and water bodies that share our locales with us, we seek to do them no harm…

…and when we seek to do no harm, we begin treading on this earth with a lighter foot…

…and when we tread with a lighter foot, we reserve land and cleaner water and air for our human and non-human brethren…

…and when we reserve land and cleaner water and air for our diverse brethren, we create livelier, more harmonious places.

So instead of jumping to conclusions and having all the answers, let’s cultivate our innate curiosity. Let’s wonder why and how.  Let’s seek first to understand, and in so doing, advance the well-being of all life.

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