I didn't know 'incurious' was a word until a few days ago. I read something somewhere and learned that we actually have a very precise word for the opposite of 'curious' (which is to say, it isn't necessarily 'depressed' or even 'bored' as I'd long suspected). Finding this out was a lightbulb moment for me. It turns out there are some serious pitfalls to the incurious life—pitfalls that go beyond never traveling the country or settling for the same line of work long after the joy runs out. I'm talking the hazards of incuriosity as it applies to interpersonal relationships, the perils that surface when someone you know (or you, yourself!) is angry or hurt and won't take responsibility for creating and propagating her own suffering.
What happens when you're one half of an interpersonal conflict and you're incurious? What might you do...or not do? You might continue to collect evidence for potentially faulty beliefs about yourself that you've held onto and not examined for too long. You might assume your loved ones' actions are a direct commentary on who you are, your worth as a human being, your value in the eyes (and hearts) of those very same loved ones. You might make the mistake of reacting instead of asking questions that could help you learn more, perhaps something different, or disprove your deepest fears about your unlovability.
A common phrase is to give it—whatever it is—the benefit of the doubt. That is: to assume the best about a person or situation if the contrary hasn't been proven. Well, I'm working on a variation of that, and it goes something like this: What about giving a person, a situation, the benefit of your curiosity? What does that look like in theory? It's operating from a place where you acknowledge that your prejudices are exactly that—prejudices—and where you shelf them for a hot minute and decide that the situation or person before you merits inquiry, investigating, a willingness to learn a bit more before assumptions are acted upon. In practice, it might look like asking more questions instead of assuming all the answers.
Byron Katie, a phenomenally impactful speaker and writer, developed a method of self-inquiry that she calls The Work. Far from hippy-dippy, woo-woo hogwash, The Work "is a way of identifying and questioning the thoughts that cause all the anger, fear, depression, addiction, and violence in the world" (I snagged that from her website), with an end goal of showing people how to end their own suffering. Comprised of four total questions, it's the first two that are my favorite and that have unlocked doors of self-responsibility and feelings-ownership for me. They are: Is it true? followed by Can you absolutely know that it is true?
Curiosity is infinitely easier—and more desirable!—to meet and respond to than assumption (which is incuriosity at its finest) and suspicion (which is curiosity that's so biased, it can hardly be called curiosity). It's the difference between saying something along the lines of this:
When did our friendship become so unimportant to you?,
and something more like this:
I really miss you and feel as though there's a canyon between us. Do you feel it, too? Can you help me bridge it? I don't know where to start.
Do you see the difference? Well, besides the obvious, of course. The first is an example of sheer attack mode: incuriosity with a hefty helping of emotional blackmail. It leaves no room for nuance, for misinterpretation, for conversation. It's a sucker punch, and it will likely (and should!) be met very carefully, as though tiptoeing around a sleeping grizzly. It is impossible to engage with because it presupposes a state of affairs that is not yet confirmed to be true. It's also a test, and an unfair one at that, because it requires the friend to protest a possibly-faulty, definitely-hurtful assumption in order to put a bandage on the situation. A bandage that will soon need reapplying because it's impossible to truly repair someone else's low self-esteem.
The second example is factual in that the speaker could reasonably and convincingly vouch for its truth—they're her feelings, therefore it's possible for her to know for sure of their veracity. Then, it elucidates what feels like truth for the speaker; that is, distance between her and her friend. Next, it plugs in to a state of curiosity; because she has no way of knowing without first asking, the speaker questions whether or not her friend feels the distance. Finally, still plugged in to that same curiosity, the speaker asks for help in finding a solution to the distance she's perceived. In this way, she takes full responsibility for her feelings instead of outsourcing them to her friend for repair.
So, giving a person or situation the benefit of your curiosity? It's applying curiosity on the inside (ideally modeling your approach on The Work or some variation thereof), and then applying it in conversation with whomever you might feel inclined to blame for your suffering. You will find that engaging in a gentle line of questioning will reveal so much more about a situation than adopting the role of victim (because when does that ever work?).
Are you finding yourself more incurious than curious in a particularly fraught interpersonal relationship? No shame. We've all been there, but there's no need to stay there. Hit 'reply' and let me help.
Notes from the week of April 24
MEALS EATEN, DRINKS DRUNK
+ cheese, all the cheese
+ sandwiches, with a view
+ Thai delivery to the hotel room
+ almond croissant
+ miso soup
+ donuts, surrounded by heaps of people
+ a beer flight & a cider
+ chocolate, on a factory tour
+ more cider & cheese fries
+ dirty chai
LOCAL COLOR EXPERIENCED
+ Amtrak's dining car (more on this soon)
+ Pike Place Market
+ Bainbridge Island
+ Fremont troll
+ statue of Lenin
+ Theo Chocolate factory tour
+ graphic bus tickets
+ Fred, Sonja, Joseph, & Rex