Why My Friends Call me Whiskers

“I’m curious, like a cat. That’s why my friends call me whiskers.”

– Will Ferrell (as Harry Carey)

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My son Madox is the youngest of four boys. And because he’s (almost) 9 and our oldest is 15, sometimes family conversations go over his head. Sometimes we use words he doesn’t understand. And one of the things I admire about my youngest son is that when he doesn’t understand, he asks questions. “What does ‘concussion’ mean?”

I think most children are like this. They aren’t afraid to ask about what they don’t know or understand. They don’t pretend to “get it,” in order to keep up appearances. If they’re not tracking with something they just ask. Sometimes it’s awkward, “Grandma, why do you have so many wrinkles?” “Mom, why does that old man have hair growing out of his nose?”

But somewhere along the way, I think we’re taught that asking questions, giving space to our curiosity is a sign of weakness. We come to believe that we should have certain knowledge and therefore we feel embarrassed. So we stifle our curiosity.

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I was thinking the other day about how much I admire adults who are curious. I enjoy conversations with people who wonder about the world, about why things are the way they are, about themselves, about relationships and about obscure branches of knowledge. I love the exploration of ideas together. I love it when a good friend says to me, “I’m curious about you and you…” Curiosity gets my energy up.

Nothing is quite so boring as having a conversation with someone who thinks they know it all and thinks they’re gifting you with their knowledge.

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So how does one cultivate curiosity?

The first step towards cultivating curiosity is to let yourself off the hook about what you don’t know. You know the things you’re embarrassed that you don’t know? Well, there are plenty of others who don’t know them either. I promise. So be gentle with yourself.

When I read some writers, I’m embarrassed about my lack of knowledge of Shakespeare. I wish I had been taught more Shakespeare in my formal education, but for reasons that aren’t relevant to this post, my Christian school education (high school AND college) didn’t make space for the Bard. So whenever people reference Hamlet, or random characters from famous Shakespearean plays, I have no idea what they’re talking about. And I have a choice. I can feel shame or just admit, I don’t know.

Which leads us to step two towards cultivating curiosity: follow your curiosity. Any curiosity will do. In fact, if you want to be a great conversationalist (one of my personal ambitions), your random, voracious curiosity will make you a great dinner guest. You’ll find more things to connect with people about, and you’ll just be a well-rounded person in whatever the conversation. Think about your last dinner party. The interesting people are the ones who have knowledge of the things you didn’t expect.

Liz Gilbert in Big Magic tells the story of how her novel The Signature of All Things began when she started following her curiosity about flowers in her garden. You never know where your curiosity will lead. It may lead to a new hobby, new friends, a new career or a new place in your relationships.

Curiosity “is like a box of chocolates, you never know what yer gonna git.” (I watched Forest Gump for the first time in probably 20 years over Spring Break. What a great movie!)

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I originally set out to say in this post that for me, curiosity is the supreme virtue. It’s not. That would be overstating. But, for me, it’s really, really important. It’s something I like about myself, and I like being around people who exhibit a great curiosity about the world.

So, what are you curious about? What do you want to explore? Who do you need to talk to? What do you need to read?

Whatever it is, follow your curiosity.

(Right now.)

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Oh, and by the way. I don’t think my friends actually call me “whiskers.” At least I hope not. But I do know, that I’ve had friends tell me that one of the things they like most about me is my voracious curiosity, and that I read widely. The result is that I know a little bit of stuff about a lot things. But, more importantly, I’m having a lot of fun!

And it doesn’t just extend to hobbies or historical interests, but it’s also about my approach to theology. I think we should be endlessly curious in our faith. (But, maybe that’s a post for another time!)

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