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The Wonder Report: October 22, 2021
Being Curious about What I Already Know
It’s fall break here in our little town, which means the kids are all off school and the grown-ups are all still working. Except not in our house! Steve and I also took a few days off, which means this week’s Wonder Report will be a little briefer than usual. In fact, I’m writing this on my day off while Steve is downstairs waiting for me to head out for another outing. So let’s jump right in.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve circled around the concept of curiosity, an eagerness to learn something new. But curiosity isn’t always about newness. In fact, I would argue that being curious about what we already know might be even more important than the desire to learn something new.
Think about all the things you know. It’s a lot. You know facts and figures. You know people and places. You know how to do things and make things and organize things. When we think about things we already know, we often call that remembering. It’s a simple rehearsal of the details: the ingredients needed for a pie crust, the name of your best friend from high school, directions to your grandmother’s house. But when you remember and then think again about your recipe—is it really the best way to make a crust?—or your best friend—how long did you call her that?—or Grandma’s house—if you were in a hurry, how would you go?—that’s called reconsideration. And we don’t do it often enough, especially about things that are really important.
It’s one thing to think again about the details of our days. We might shave off a few minutes on our commute or make a better sandwich or find ourselves more organized. But what would it mean to be really curious about the ideas, beliefs, and opinions we hold most dear? What are the potential risks of reconsidering our political affiliations, our personal goals, our career choices, our relationships, and even our spiritual beliefs? What are the possibilities?
Reconsidering something doesn’t mean that we’ve been wrong about it or that we’re going to abandon a belief or opinion you’ve held dear. It does means we’re going to examine it more closely from where we are now. We’re going to hear out others who disagree with us. We’re going to value humility and growth over winning or being right. And if we were wrong or decide to change our minds, we begin again from there.
“The curse of knowledge is that it closes our minds to what we don’t know,” says Adam Grant, professor of psychology at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, “Good judgment depends on having the skill—and the will—to open our minds.”
Jesus was a master at inviting us to think again about what we think we know. His Sermon on the Mount, for instance, is filled with the twists and turns of reconsideration:
He says those who mourn and hunger are blessed. What?
He calls his listeners to righteousness greater than the scribes and Pharisees, who were known for their righteousness. But how?
He tells them that love isn’t just for friends … enemies too.
He points to lilies and sparrows and asks, Who do you think takes care of them?
Maybe most poignantly, Jesus refers to several key Jewish teachings and asks his listeners to think again about what they really means (Matthew 5:21-48):
“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be answerable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be answerable to the court.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, take no oath at all.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I say to you, do not show opposition against an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other toward him also.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
It’s as if Jesus is telling them: Things aren’t always as they seem. And what you think you know, you may only know in part. Or not at all.
Being curious about what we already know keeps us always learning, always growing, and always aware of just how much we don’t know.
“Great thinkers don’t harbor doubts because they’re imposters,” Adam Grant writes, “They maintain doubts because they know we’re all partially blind and they’re committed to improving their sight. They don’t boast about how much they know; they marvel at how little they understand. They’re aware that each answer raises new questions, and the quest for knowledge is never finished. A mark of lifelong learners is recognizing that they can learn something from everyone they meet.”
I wonder … how often do you reconsider what you know? Are you generally open to hearing from people who believe or think differently than you? Why or why not? What do you risk by reconsidering what you know? What might you gain?
2. Think Again by Adam Grant
I’m in the middle of reading this book, but I know enough to recommend it. It’s a book for our time … a book that invites us to be curious about what we believe and know, and also about what we don’t. One of my favorite chapters so far as been “The Joy of Being Wrong.” I love this quote from one of the world’s top forecasters, Kjirste Morrell, and Grant’s analysis:
“When I asked Kjirste what made her so good at forecasting, she replied: ‘There’s no benefit to me for being wrong for longer. It’s much better if I change my beliefs sooner, and it’s a good feeling to have that sense of a discovery, that surprise—I would think people would enjoy that.’
“Kjirste hasn’t figured out how to erase the pain of being wrong. She’s transformed it into a source of pleasure,” Grant writes.
Grant also offers great insight into surrounding ourselves with people who challenge our beliefs and also on disagreeing with others in a way that focuses on what we have in common rather than where we disagree.
If you’re looking for a book to help you become more curious, I’d highly recommend this one.
Oh, and if you’d like to hear a little more from Adam Grant before you decide to read the book, check out this TED Talk form earlier this year.
3. Just for Fun: Curious Question: Why does the air smell so good after it’s been raining?
I love this fascinating article from Country Life magazine about the smell of rain in the air. I’d read a little bit about it in the past, and thought I knew where that earthy smell came from. But this article plunged much deeper than my past inquiries.
“That many dry clays and soils gave off a peculiar and characteristic odour when moistened with water was a phenomenon recognised in all standard mineralogy textbooks at the time,” writes Martin Fone, “but Joy Bear and Richard Thomas, working for the CSIRO Division of Mineral Chemistry in Melbourne, were intrigued to understand why and how.”
A win for reconsideration … and a very curious phenomenon you might want to learn more about.
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Until next time,