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Courage needs curiosity. And curiosity takes courage.

Sunday, September 15, 2013 by Marianne Elliott

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When I was a teenager, I went to my father – an elder in our Brethren Church – and told him I wasn’t sure I believed in hell.

‘It just doesn’t seem right to me’, I said. ‘Why would a loving God, who created us because we would give him joy, choose to banish us forever – with no chance of reconciliation? Why would God want to cause us suffering and pain for all eternity?’

My father had a couple of choices at that point. He could have told me the ‘right answer’ according to our church. He could have recited the dogma, insisted on one version of the truth, and told me my questions were out of line.

Instead, he got curious.

‘Those are really good questions,’ he said, ‘let’s try and answer them together.’

And with those few words, he not only kept me in conversation with him about God – which is pretty much the most important conversation you can be having with your children if you are a Brethren Elder – but also kept me in relationship with him.

Curiosity is the antidote to dogma, intolerance, inflexibility and arrogance. Where dogma says, ‘That’s wrong.’ Curiosity asks, ‘I wonder why that is?’ – Click to tweet

When faced with something that seems wrong, curiosity asks, ‘Why would this be so? What do I know about this situation? What do I not know? What would I like to know?’

Curiosity is a hallmark of grounded wisdom, and curiosity takes courage.

It takes courage to admit ‘I don’t know’, and it takes courage to stay in the vulnerable place of not being certain – when our instinct may be to leap to conclusions.

My questions didn’t stop with hell, soon I was asking why women couldn’t be elders in our church, why the Bible insisted that Christ was the only path to God when the world was full of good, devout people who weren’t Christians, and why the church made such a big deal about homosexuality but turned a blind eye to the sin of greed.

At each of those points, my father could have chosen intolerance and dogma. He could have chosen to let fear of the unknown, and fear of losing control, determine his response. But instead, he had the courage to be open to my questions. He had the courage to be curious with me.

Thirty years later, my father and I still have conversations about God. Because I’ve learned that I can always go to him with my curiosity, and I’ll be met with his.

Curiosity allows our moral courage to adapt to the changing world around us. Curiosity takes courage AND saves courage from turning into dogma. – Click to tweet

Practices for cultivating curiosity

Here are some ways to cultivate curiosity I learned from my dad, plus some I’ve stumbled across myself:

Start with a question.

Whenever something doesn’t make sense to you, instead of searching for a position to take, try instead starting with the question: I wonder why this is? Another great curiosity question (one with massive creative power) is the question that begins with ‘What if…?’

Let go of the need to be right.

This is REALLY hard for me. I’m a One on the Enneagram, which means being right is very important to me. But being right gets in the way of being curious. So I’m learning to notice when needing to be right is getting the way of being open, taking a deep breath and going back to the first point: start with a question.

Practice enjoying life.

Enthusiasm is one of the core ingredients for a natural sense of curiosity. You can cultivate greater love for life, and enthusiasm, by practicing active gratitude and making it a practice to notice things of beauty, goodness and joy in your life. Research suggests that by regularly holding onto a positive image or feeling (like gratitude) for 15-30 seconds, we help lay it down in our longterm memory and can begin to build our capacity for positive ‘affects’ like joy, enthusiasm and curiosity.

 

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