Columnist Daniel Cantor Yalowitz: Curiosity — remaining open to what is

Daniel Cantor Yalowitz

Daniel Cantor Yalowitz


Published: 05-27-2024 9:47 AM

It’s easy to form an opinion about anything, leave it there, and move on. Most of our news cycles and the media do just this. It’s tempting, perhaps, to go with this and leave it at that. After all, as products of mass public education in the U.S., who among us was really taught to think deeply and creatively? We live our lives based on the facts that are told to us by the media that we choose to engage with; everything else becomes part of some vague “alternative reality.”

When I was growing up in the last century it seemed that “facts” were legitimate, that we were all living in, bracing for, and facing one common reality. It was easier back then to have honest, informed discourse with others having a diverse array of opinions and perspectives — people listened to one another and took in varied viewpoints. That world, that way of life, seems to have vanished in just the past 10 years or so.

In the past decade, among the things to have taken a vacation (or a sabbatical) is one of the most fundamental qualities of humanhood: curiosity. We’re actually born with curiosity – it’s a natural “instinct” for young children. Curiosity fuels our explorations, within and without, and helps us to continually expand our reach, our understanding, our world. It allows for questions, whether germane to a specific situation or not. 

I was applauded early on for my intensive and extensive curiosity – it led to fascination, growth, passion, and deeper meaning. Over the course of my K-12, I was schooled to memorize dates, facts, and names of things. That was the extent of it. I was released from this purgatory of restrictive thinking when I took off to college, then to graduate school, and finally to the completion of my doctoral studies. My curiosity was again valued, even sought after. I was re-learning to be open to what is — and to what could be. 

As I was busy integrating creativity and questioning, I found myself drawn to teach. In this domain, I could inspire others around me to covet and prize curiosity as a hallmark of humanity. And, for the 40-plus years of my career in the academy, this was among the things that made me happiest and most productive. 

In lieu of wonderment and the questioning of what is and what can be, it seems that we as a nation and a culture have unfortunately settled into the laziness of close-minded perspective-taking. We’re too “busy”: we don’t have time to read, to discern, to be curious out loud.  That saddens me because I feel we are the lesser for the loss (or at least the decrease) of our curiosity. But one thing I’ve never let go of is of at least equal importance: hope. 

While I mourn the minimization of creativity and open-minded thinking and living, I hold hope that we will not give in to shutting down ways of life. To me, to be curious is to be fully alive, and to be able to share this has great meaning. Curiosity invites us to become two things: one is to become creative through active experimentation and the second is to become open-minded.

If I am to make something new, I must be curious about both process and product. If I want to get to know someone and become their friend, I must have curiosity about them to initiate contact. If I have the opportunity to learn something new, it’s imperative that I have curiosity and be able to ask questions. Above all, where there is curiosity, there must also be a willingness to try — and to make mistakes. Fear gets in the way of — and can shut down — curiosity, open-mindedness, and creativity. 

Being open and curious enables us to challenge the status quo. Whether we do this for deeper understanding in the pursuit of our truth or to question what we’ve been told to see if it holds up to our values and convictions, it is healthy (and normal) for our individual and collective development. Curiosity also brings out passion, compassion, and a certain joie de vivre because one is invested in wanting to learn, to grow, and to understand.

Did something “out there” really happen? Did it happen the way the narrative was shared? Recall that infamous film, one that never quite made it, called “Wag the Dog.” With a winning cast, including Robert DeNiro, Anne Heche, and Dustin Hoffman, a candidate standing for reelection as U.S. president lands in the middle of a sex scandal two weeks before the election. To distract the public from knowing this, he hires a Hollywood producer to help him fabricate a war in Albania … and it goes on from there. The public is duped into being convinced that this war is real — after all, it’s in the nightly news, grisly video and all. Hmmm … are there any modern-day similarities to current life in the U.S., or anywhere else in the world?

Having and using our curiosity is a great gift. Its preciousness ought not to be underestimated. Where would we be without it? What has happened because we no longer prize and prioritize it? As we live with, teach, learn from, and co-exist with our children, take note and take time to support and applaud their efforts to draw on their innate curiosity to create, to engage, to build relationships, and to dream. Let’s let their aspirations be our inspiration! What are you curious about?

Daniel Cantor Yalowitz writes a regular column in the Recorder. A developmental and intercultural psychologist, he has facilitated change in many organizations and communities around the world. His two most recent books are “Journeying with Your Archetypes” and “Reflections on the Nature of Friendship.” Reach out to him at