Close Connections: What happened to curiosity?
By Nancy Norman
We’ve all heard it killed the cat. Probably many of us heard, “You ask too many questions,” particularly when we were little. What’s the deal with curiosity’s bad rap, I want to know? We need it. It’s vital to enriched communication which is vital to making friends.
Have you noticed how conversations go these days? Here’s a typical example of what I hear:
First person: “I’m really excited. I just started painting again since I retired.”
Second person: “I tried painting once. I didn’t really like it.”
What happens to the first person who shared about her excitement and interest in painting? Squashed? Disappointed? Angry? We can bet she probably won’t be sharing a lot more with that second person.
The second person, whose response we can call “self-referential,” probably won’t notice the look on the first person’s face, her manner after feeling shut down, her irritation at not receiving anything we call curiosity. Won’t notice because she’s thinking of what more she can say about herself.
I guess there’s no use asking why that is. But I do anyway. Is the whole society turning into IT’S ALL ABOUT ME? A Selfie World? Or has it always been that way and I just didn’t see it til recently?
We expect kids to be “all about them.” But they do ask questions naturally. They ask about things, what they are, what they do, where they came from. They’re often curious about life. So what happens to our natural tendency to be curious as it applies to other people and our communication with each other?
If I sound a little disheartened, it’s because I am. Communicating is a two-way deal, give and take, talk and listen—and ASK QUESTIONS! Be curious. Find out what others’ passions are, what makes their life worth living.
Maybe there’s a fear of being called “nosy,” as sharing about ourselves personally is a more recent development in our society, I think. We probably don’t want to start a conversation with, “Do you believe in God?” Way too intimate too quickly. There’s a balance. Maybe a question more similar to, “What’s your day look like?” And then hope the other person will ask questions back.
Asking open-ended questions instead of close-ended questions allows us to learn more about the other person. Open-ended is, “How do you like living in town?” and stands a chance of hearing more. Close-ended is, “Do you like living in town?,” and gets a yes/no response. The more we can learn about the other person, the more chance we have to find others we’d like to know better.
We all want to talk about ourselves. Nothing wrong with that. But timing is important. First be curious about the other, then tell something that matters to you. Granted, you may not receive any curiosity back, but if you do, you’ll have found someone you might want to spend more time with. And maybe even a treasure beyond words–a true friend.
Nancy Norman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, musician with The Storys musical duo and former “Intimacy” columnist for The Wichita Eagle. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.