In an upcoming conversation with Matt Cronin about the craft of creativity and finding the heuristics and algorithms — the simple rules — for getting something done, we explored the craft of curiosity as well. In putting this week’s episode together, I realized that’s what Jocelyn had offered: a simple rule for listening well.
What’s the smallest sound I hear right now?
What does it take for us to be aware enough of our environment to even begin to answer that question? So many layers. Are we listening for volume? Dynamic range? Duration? Emotional significance? In the same space, at the same moment, do you and I hear the same “smallest sound”?
And what if that sound is a human sound, a person’s voice? A statement, a question, a call for help? Untranslatable, indistinct, speaking volumes with its smallness?
When we are curious in the face of sound, we are intensely present in the moment. We can’t listen well without being all in on the process. Listening for one thing, we often hear others.
We hear things we don’t expect to hear.
There’s the value of choosing to be curious about the sounds around us: it can surprise us, reward us, reframe us. People’s lives unfolding. Birds’, too. Commerce and construction and the breeze passing through. We can’t help but wonder “where did that come from? where is it going? will I hear it again?”
Every place has its own sound. My home sounds different than yours. This town’s soundscape is different than that’s. Could you pick out your soundscape in a virtual auditory line up? What makes it unique?
Six more things that stuck with me from my conversation with Jud:
Curiosity is joyful, very experiential – it’s hard to put words on it! The drive “I have to know” doesn’t really get at the essence of curiosity — getting caught up is the opposite of curiosity. Curiosity is much more open.
Curiosity shows up in early Buddhist teaching as a “factor of awakening.”
Just be with what is happening. That being can change things around us. By being curious, we just rest in being — and that pleasant feeling of curiosity is more rewarding than giving into cravings.
The posterior cingulate cortex of the brain gets really active when we get caught up in something; it deactivates when we meditate and when we’re curious. That activation happens when we’re contracted, curiosity is the opposite.
Curiosity extends to ethical conduct. We can be curious: what’s it like when I’m a jerk? Curiosity can drive us in the direction of living a good life.
“Curiosity, that’s pretty good stuff. I want to keep smoking that.”
What might we learn from choosing to be curious about outcomes? Sharon Shutler spent the better part of 2017 supporting the effort to “flip Virginia blue.” Then she spent some time looking at what worked — and what didn’t. Now she’s sharing what she and others learned.
Michelangelo, the master artist, wrote, “I am still learning.” We focused on that spirit of life-long learning in this week’s Curiosity to Go segment, featuring both Sharon’s lessons learned and Marjorie Varner of Encore Learning.
Central Falls High School teacher Seth Kolker wrote:
The goal for our course on “How to Change the World” is simple and bold: by the end of the year, each student will have a working theory of how they want to change the world. All year, we’re going to meet inspiring student activists, lawyers, non-profit leaders, community volunteers, and elected officials who are working to make local change happen. And in April, we’ll travel to Washington, DC for a weeklong trip students are planning themselves.
And so they did.
It was, in a word, amazing.
I talked with the students about how curiosity just might help change the world.
Now you can subscribe to Choose to be Curious on iTunes.
The students’ visit also provided an opportunity for an exciting cross-collaboration between Arlington Independent Media’s TV and radio productions. I was delighted to partner with Nathan Bynum and his Youth Can Change the World program to feature the budding activists.
I went for a walk in the woods yesterday. It was a noisy-quiet morning, with a low racket of avian chatter and the gentle hush of a breeze in the taller tree’s branches.
I looked for movement in the stillness.
Birds escorted me along the path, dusting up the litter of the forest floor. Squirrels did the same, just a little further removed. A butterfly’s lemon-yellow wings caught in the dappled sunlight. A single sassafras leaf, angled and perfectly attuned to the soft wind’s frequency, vibrated wildly.
Immobilized by my approach to the tidal edge, tiny crabs rewarded my stillness with renewed activity. A charismatic doe, disarmingly large in comparison to all the other wildlife, lifted first her head and then her white tail before bounding off across the wetlands. In the sunny distance, heat waves shimmered above the slightly roughed bay as the water lapped at the distant shore.
Up, beyond the doe or the soaring osprey and playing gulls, a few stray clouds floated lazily by. A jet stream bore witness to mechanical movement now past. I thought about the earth’s rotation and our fierce hurdle through the vastness of space. All there, in the deceptive calm of the late morning’s blue sky.
Back under the canopy of soft new green, I marveled at the movement of growth, the barely discernible but still obvious changes, day by day, as the woods around me return to life.
Historian Susan Strasser has written, “History is not a collection of facts, but a way of thinking about how things change…I believe history offers a way for us to become honest with ourselves.”
That’s the spirit with which we approached the difficult fact of lynching. We chose to face it directly, to be curious about our own history, the hidden enormity of the terror, and our own responses to it. Historian Susan Strasser and poet Marcia E. Cole joined me for this important conversation:
You can now subscribe to Choose to be Curious on iTunes.
We all have stories to tell, some happier than others, all with something to offer the future. Valeria Gellman and others collected stories from legacy businesses in Arlington, VA and turned them into a delightful WERA series, The Local Shop,as part of an effort to help communities prepare for the change that is coming there.