Monday, August 09, 2021

The Importance of Curiosity

I recently attended a workshop on Zoom led by Rob Walker, author of The Art of Noticing. He does a lot of work through his book and his newsletter getting people to pay attention to their surroundings, mainly by providing exercises and suggestions for noticing what one would normally not take much note of.

I've been doing this lately with fire hydrants: noticing where they are in neighborhoods, how spread apart they are, their colors, and how many residences they could be meant for. I had a certain fascination with them when I was a kid, so tapping into that again so many years later has been a fun exercise. 

When author Allie Brosh shared pictures on her Facebook page what she's been up to during her hiatus, she seemed to have a certain fascination with telephone poles. Just as another example.

The point of Walker's talk was to reflect on curiosity. Among other things, he shared that curiosity assumes that there's something you haven't seen that you'd like to see. To be curious is to look for those things that you're not used to looking for. 

We're especially in need of curiosity when we need creative solutions to problems. What didn't we notice before that we may need to notice now, and how might that help us see new possibilities?

At one point, he quoted one of my favorite creatives Austin Kleon (who, it turned out, was also in attendance), from a recent blog post of his:

A curious idiot is unafraid to ask stupid questions. Every stupid question you ask takes a teeny, tiny act of courage. Sometimes you have to muster the will to push the words out of your lips.

Much like Kleon's statement here about being unafraid, perhaps the biggest takeaway from Walker's talk was that curiosity and noticing should be seen as integral to our lives, rather than add-ons that we may get to after completing other tasks. To be curious in the midst of other tasks is to be able to see them from different angles, to probe the reasons behind their various parts, and to seek new possibilities and creative solutions. 

If there was ever a time when curiosity and noticing could be our allies, it would be now. This season has presented us with the need to approach the familiar in new ways, to question why we do what we do and how we've been doing it, and to get creative in how to move forward. That includes fulfilling our own needs for health and safety. 

And for people of faith, intentionally cultivating our curiosity and noticing can help us expand our awareness of God's presence in the events and activities of our lives. I explore this in my books Coffeehouse Contemplative and Prayer in Motion

What have you noticed and been curious about today? This week? This year?