Curiosity did NOT kill the cat
“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” Albert Einstein
Not something you would ever expect to hear from one of the greatest minds of all time, is it? Well, it got me thinking. If we could all just be a little more curious about life—especially the challenging times—an entirely new world of possibilities would open themselves up for us. Much like they did for Albert Einstein, who initially had to work as a technical assistant at the Swiss Patent Office, because he couldn’t find work after he graduated from college.
There are times in life when you are either the one being evaluated or the one making the evaluation; neither of which can be incredibly comfortable to hear or do. But there is a way one can deliver and receive an evaluation—better put, criticism—without becoming the enemy. And for the sake of this post, the enemy is not the scary, snarling image from a horror movie, but the version of ourselves that ignores and furthermore judges the beggar on the street, or cuts a person off in traffic because we are running late. As ugly as it is, we all engage in those moments.
The cardinal rule is: we never want to intentionally offend, hurt or belittle people. That doesn’t motivate or inspire a better work ethic in the work place, or pick up dirty clothes any faster off the floor, compliments of your teenage son at home. Whether you are the one delivering the criticism or receiving it, whether you’re the one making the bed or taking the trash out – no matter how bad the stench will be the next morning – always check yourself. It’s a well-known fact that Albert Einstein failed his University entrance exam, as well as considered himself a “treacherous speller”, but that didn’t stop him from achieving amazing things. I like Einstein trivia… can you tell?
There is a reason WHY it’s important to be open to others and what they say, and it’s this: If we come to truly understand and know that we are everyone’s teacher, as well as being everyone’s student, criticism would cease to bear the negative stigma that it already does. Because instead of thinking why me… we grant ourselves the capability of changing and living tomorrow with a different mindset. The silver lining is, you can choose to take it in, or discard it. The point is to apply your sense of curiosity to it.
Always ask yourself, is this about me or about them? And try to see if there is an agenda behind their words. Become curious about it – what is the message behind what you are hearing? Is it to make improvements or is it ego-based and intended to “cut you down to size”? Sometimes we can project our own insecurities onto others. The key is, consciousness.
Curiosity is more than keeping an open mind, it’s about never putting a limitation on what is or isn’t possible. Curiosity is boundless, and if we approach criticism with a curious attitude it can offer an endless supply of prospects. It can offer us profound advantages and it helps us approach life’s curveballs with an open attitude, whether you’re the one throwing it or trying to hit it.
A mistake most people make is they think that curiosity is a characteristic they are born with, but curiosity is more like a muscle that we can grow, it just takes exercise. You can grow your curiosity – cultivate your curious nature to better receive life’s messages and lessons. If criticisms are just another excellent way to school us through life, then let curiosity be its playground. We’re all born with unlimited curiosity, but sadly, as we get older and more stressed with the weight of responsibility on us, that overrides our curious spirits. Let’s not only cultivate an unlimited supply of curiosity, but a fast track to it, too!
Professor Todd Kashdan, author of “Curious? Discover The Missing Ingredient To A Fulfilling Life” says that “curiosity is nothing more than what we feel when we are struck by something novel.” I like that word… novel. We all know what it means, it’s something different from anything known or seen before. How about applying that freshness to something like criticisms? Could make for a refreshing way to walk through life and assess the messages behind the criticisms.
Kashdan’s book outlines the many different ways we benefit from cultivating a curious outlook. It’s certainly worth reading if you’re interested.
As we grow older our instinct to explore is tempered by our desire to conform. We stop asking questions, because we might look stupid. We stop putting ourselves in positions where we’re open to feedback—criticism—because we don’t want to be vulnerable. We tend to dismiss curiosity as a childish, naïve trait, but as Todd Kashdan explains, “it can actually give us profound advantages.”
Curious people are seekers who actively look for challenges that will stretch them. According to an analysis by Professor Dean Keith Simonton at the University of California, openness (curiosity) was a hallmark trait of the American presidents who were judged most effective. A little trivia for you…guess who scored the lowest…?
AH, don’t expect me to get all “political” now, because I’m not going to tell you who failed at it! Who am I kidding? It’s far too juicy! George W. Bush exhibited the lowest openness scores.
So… when you need to deliver the blow, it need not be devastating, in fact far from it. Criticism is best delivered with thoughtfulness and tact—as is any message or news in life—that’s certainly what makes it constructive and more of an advisement encompassed in care and less of a judgment. Advisement comes from a place of investment, and if you are invested in the information you are giving and the person you are giving it to, you need to be clear what the agenda behind what you are saying is. You don’t want to beat someone down.
We can advise one another on things that need improving by way of building confidence, not breaking it down with blame and general character assassination. For instance, there is no way you can hope your child will be successful, or more than that, become president while you’re berating and telling them, “Someone as messy and lazy as you could never amount to anything.” It is by no means a way to encourage their hopes or dreams; labeling does you or them no favors, either.
Ultimately, instead of feeling persecuted by criticism, tap into your curiosity and simply consider it a message that you need to hear. Keep it novel. Have a fresh outlook about it, because it’s about awakening your awareness to yourself and to others. Remember that we are all here as teachers and students and our roles are constantly interchangeable.
As James Stephens so eloquently states, “Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.”
- Do you take it personally when people seem to offer feedback about you?
- Do you allow yourself the space to sit with it and think about what was behind their agenda?
- Do you view criticism as an attack on your character?