Thursday, August 14, 2014

People Observation: Cat videos killed the curiosity

My next door neighbor is a professor Emeritus of Physics. He's an incredible man who I could chat with all day. On the subject of our college town's academic quality, I asked him what he notices with students these days compared to those he's taught in the past. He gave me one answer: they just don't have any curiosity.

He teaches physics. His students are studying to be scientists. But they never seem to care anymore to know the fascinating answers we are finding to some of the universe's biggest questions.

My neighbor's observation isn't unaccompanied. I've noticed this myself.

I babysat for a wonderful little boy who has a creative brain that I loved to pick. While many people find Right Brains to be the math experts, I would argue the most successful problem solvers are the ones who can best mix that Left Brain creativity with that Right Brain critical thinking to find unique and new routes for finding solutions. This boy I babysat is one of those people. His math homework was kind of a mess, and he loved to use one of those extra smooth and inky purple pens to write his answers (which drove me kind of nuts). His answers were always right, but he always seemed to find them in ways I never understood. One day, he brought home a couple of wrong answers on a math quiz. He was very discouraged. He said his teacher told him he wasn't good at fractions. I was livid. What kind of third grade teacher tells an eight year old he isn't GOOD at something? Then, as I looked through his answers, I found she was the wrong one. The questions had been ambiguous, and when the boy attempted to ask for clarification, he was shot down. Only because this boy had misinterpreted a quiz question was he told he was incorrect, and even worse, he was told he wasn't good at it.

We have all had similar experiences: When I was in second grade I used to get really excited about the books we were reading. If I read ahead I would get in trouble. (Sidenote: My brother Sean used to read ahead to parts in books with swear words -- obviously 5th grade swear words like hell and ass-- so he could volunteer to read out loud during the raunchy parts of class novels)

Eventually this getting in trouble for our curiosity takes a toll on us. We get sick of our excitement about all of our questions. We're told our questions are stupid. So we stop asking. Eventually, the only questions we ever ask are, "is this going to be on the test?"

As a young person who was insanely curious in college, I felt this kind of punishment all of the time. See my story about getting a C- in a class I took for fun.

But I have found that the rewards for my curiosities always outweigh any kind of "punishment" I'd ever receive for them. Rewards like further understanding of people who aren't like me (or, as it turns out, end up being more like me than I think). Rewards like empathy. Rewards like meeting new people and noticing the little nuances and paradoxes of every day life.

I've talked about New Years Resolutions before. They're an easy way for me to make a drastic change towards becoming the person I believe a person should be. I like to do drastic things (mostly so I can brag about them but also) to test myself and learn something along the way. This year, my resolution was that I wasn't allowed to look at my phone while I'm in a line.

You see, people are looking at there phones everywhere they go. Every single line you've stood in in the last three years has been loaded with phone lookers. And I hate it. I absolutely LOATHE it. People constantly checking their screens are missing some incredible stuff.

We miss the eye contact with strangers at a coffee shop that turns into the observation that they, too, visit the same coffee shop every morning, which maybe then becomes a friendship. We miss the opportunity to ask people about their days. We miss noticing the puppy walking down the street. We miss real, genuine smiles to and from strangers that over the course of an entire day can change a person's emotional wellbeing. The things I notice that others don't notice baffles me. The things I've noticed and enjoyed since this year's No Phones While Waiting rule baffle me.

While you watch that video of that (probably adorable) kitty on your phone, you're missing your own cat's short nine lives. While you're letting your child sit on that tablet at the dinner table, you're missing an incredible conversation about his life -- he is missing an incredible interaction with his family.

Here's the truth: Nothing on your phone will ever be more remarkable than the person sitting in front of you.

I would like to challenge you to tickle your curiosity muscle every now and then. I would rather have friends who don't know but want to know than friends who know everything. I would rather have friends who can find answers with me than friends who tell me all the answers. (Chances are if you think you know everything you're probably wrong because there is no possible way that you do.) Read ahead and find the swear words. Get distracted with a new hobby. Use your freaking imagination.

There is nothing more attractive than a person who has curiosity.

Put down your phones and step away from your screens. Because they don't have the answers. Go explore the world.

1 comment:

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