More Curiosity, Less Judgment

Three Curiosities, part 2

The first curiosity (HERE) manifests as love of learning. The second manifests as empathy.

2. Curiosity as Antidote to Judgmentalism

There's a kind of curiosity that is paying attention particularly to other people -- the living, breathing ones with whom you interact -- and being curious about them -- their feelings and needs. This is the kind of curiosity that the business consultants are talking about when they come in to teach about being curious. They aren't recommending that workers spend more time watching documentaries or reading about the House of Plantagenet. They're saying be curious instead of judgmental about the people around you: co-workers, and clients or customers -- and curious about yourself.

This is indeed a powerful use of curiosity.
"When you’re curious, you forget to be afraid. When you’re curious, you’re less attached to your ego and getting things right. When you’re curious, you’re open to new ideas and possibilities." (Sandra Possing)
Become the brilliant detective of your own life!

The opposite of this sort of curiosity is judging.
"When you default to judging things, you contract. You shut yourself off to the limitless possibilities all around you. It may feel good temporarily, because it makes you feel superior, which feeds the ego. But, in the long run it just breeds negativity." (Sandra Possing)
A judging mind obscures a broader, more realistic picture of self and others. This leads to greater emotional suffering in the form of low self-esteem, anxiety, irritability, and depression.
"Unfortunately, negative evaluation of self and others is quite pervasive in our culture here in the United States; for many, it’s their default way of relating to the world. But, the good news is that, with some practice, it’s possible to shift thought patterns in a more positive and rational direction, by cultivating more curiosity, rather than judgment." (Kim Pratt)
Of course, being discerning, thoughtful, reflective, and wise are good things. Judgmentalism, however, is the prioritizing of evaluation -- good or bad, better or worse, liked or disliked -- over open presence to and acceptance of what is.

On occasion, some evaluation is called for, but these occasions are a lot rarer than we seem to think. Living in "should" instead of "is" is a recipe for discontent. Curiosity, on the other hand, imparts the clarity of a more rational view and fosters inner peace and better emotional and interpersonal functioning. Curiosity helps us tap into compassion and kindness -- for oneself and others. When we have greater understanding and compassion, we're
"we’re smarter human beings that can take more skillful internal (self-talk) and external action." (Kim Pratt)
In fact, you won't even learn very much about the House of Plantagenet if your main focus is on blaming Henry VI instead of understanding the historical forces at work.

So here's a good exercise for moving out of judgment into curiosity. At the end of the day, write down the most judgmental thought you had that day. The write some related more curious thoughts about that.

Suppose you found yourself self-judging: "I'm not smart enough to do well on that exam." Write that down. Then think of some ways to be curious about that subject. "I wonder what will actually happen when I take the test. I wonder what I'll learn from preparing for this exam. Where did my drop in confidence come from? What factors help me feel more confident? What are some study and preparation strategies I could look into?"

Or suppose you saw a Mom who brought her kids to story time at the library, and while the other parents there were engaging with the story along with their kids, this one was off to the side looking at her phone. Suppose you had the judgmental thought: "Look at her! She's not even paying attention to her kids! What's so important on her phone that she has to look at it right this second?" Write that down. Then think of some ways to be curious about that subject. "Could she be waiting for an important email from a family member or friend? Is she using he phone to search for a new job? Did she have an incredibly rough morning, and just needs to zone out for a few minutes while her kids are in a safe environment? Maybe she talked over with her kids that it was time for them to exercise just a little bit of their own responsibility for paying attention by themselves. Is it any of my business if she's looking at a gossip website or texting her friends?"

The point here is not to satisfy the curiosity, but to merely think of possible explanations. Perhaps you've heard the slogan, "Assume best possible motive." That's an excellent way to approach people and situations. The problem is that we're often not very good at doing it. I don't mean that we forget to assume best possible motive, I mean that our imaginations get so clouded over by judgment that even the best possible motive that we can imagine isn't a very good motive. In order to assume better possible motives, we have to be able to imagine better possible motives -- and that requires exercising and strengthening our imagination. Doing this exercise at the end of every day for a month will help expand your capacity to imagine reasonable explanations for why good people would behave in the ways that you had an impulse to judge.

Every time a feeling of annoyance, irritation, impatience, or anger arises, right there, I've got two questions to be curious about:
  1. About the person that is the immediate trigger of my feeling, what conditions would lead a person to act that way -- and, in those conditions, what are they feeling and needing?
  2. What's going on in me that would cause me to have the reaction I'm having?
When judgmentalism catches you, imagining possible answers to these two questions is typically enough to open you to a more rational, peaceful perspective. Often, the first step of an investigation is to imagine possible answers to the question. You don't need to reach satisfaction that you've ascertained the truth of the matter -- but you do need curiosity to spur you to this first step.

Next: The Curiosity We're Better Off Without

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This is part 2 of 3 of "Three Curiosities"
See next: Part 3: Curiosity, the Bad Kind
See also: Part 1: Curiosity and the Love of Learning

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