“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
As Shakespeare so eloquently put it… and so it is with curiosity.
As a professor and abroad director, I hoped to instill a sense of curiosity in my students… what I hoped for was to see a sincere desire to learn more about the world, other people and cultures and ways of life. I think the more we turn outward and learn about others, the more we can cultivate a culture of compassion and empathy… where we can see our common humanity.
However, I’ve recently noticed that curiosity can also have a negative purpose… and I’ve see this popping up over and over lately. This seems to happen when the motive behind the desire to know something isn’t inspired and then it seems to gravitate from curiosity to fascination or even obsession… This would be cast as voyeurism… or even “morbid curiosity” which an online dictionary defines as a curiosity which is so compelling that the curious person is driven to satisfy it, even though he or she knows or strongly suspects that they probably won’t like what they find, or otherwise find something which is irrelevant or unsatisfying…
I first noticed this notion of curiosity being possibly a negative in some cases from a story book I was reading my nephew called My Father’s Dragon. In the second book in the series the main characters a boy and a dragon end up on an island filled with canaries that were all “dying of curiosity” because the king canary was so sick with curiosity about an ancient secret passed down over generations… anyway, it got me wondering if there are situations where curiosity could be a bad thing…
I heard it once said, “never ask a question if you don’t really want to hear the answer”… and this may be some good advice in a way… or perhaps allow us a moment to check our motive… why do we want to know? What purpose does knowing X serve? Will it help the situation?
You may be wondering what I’m getting at, and thinking that it is always good to know more information than less… but let me give you some examples that may help illustrate my point…
Sometimes I hear friends say they want to know more about their partner’s history with past relationships. I get it, I’ve been there… but at these times, I’ve had to ask myself. Do I really want to know? Probably not… but if so, why? Will it lead me to feel better or worse about myself, about my partner, about the other person? Will it lead me to compare myself to others… and does that ever go very well? (Not usually… either we put someone else down and puff ourselves up, or put ourselves down… and either way the entire premise is off because we are often basing our view of ourselves and others not as the image of Love, a perfect, whole and complete creation of the Divine … but as a faulty human)…
In another situation, someone told me that they had gotten more details than they wanted about someone’s passing and couldn’t get the images out of their head. They said they should have stopped the flow of information, but were just so curious about it, they just let happen and now they couldn’t seem to undo it. This is tough stuff… when someone passes, it’s tempting to want what some may call the “gory details”… but do you really want that in your thought? And related to that, it’s easy to get caught up in the trauma and drama of a tragic event… we want to know why it happened? Who’s to blame? What were they thinking? What are others thinking? Why now? Why this way?
These are all examples of what I am talking about when I say that curiosity can have a negative side… I’m not saying it’s wrong… and some may say “human nature” to wonder about these things… and I am not saying that it is not good to be informed to learn from and prevent tragic events from happening in the future… that’s different.
It’s the bit where fear generally gets us spun up asking these questions… and we become consumed with fear in the asking… but in all of that… aren’t the real questions deeper than all that… aren’t we really wanting to know — am I safe? Is he/she safe? Am I loved? Are they loved? Am I worthy enough? Am I good enough? Are they? Will I be ok? Will they be ok?
I find that it is helpful when wondering “what if” it is good to pause and this about “what is”… What is true about me and my fellow man from a spiritual vantage point right now and always…Well for me that always starts with God, with Good, with Love… which I know to be all-powerful, ever-present and eternal. It begins with knowing that I (and everyone else) am created by God, Good… that I am whole and complete… that Life is truly eternal and that Love is truly ever-present… and that not one of us can ever be separated from Love or Life for a single moment. When I get present to that fact, then the questions fall away… and I feel more at peace.
I find the “what ifs” keep us in the past or the future… and to find a sense of peace and the answer to those deeper questions… it’s helpful to stay in the present… in the eternal now… and declare that Love is present and powerful and wrapping us up and keeping us safe and whole. Paul states in Second Corinthians “For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”
 2 Cor 6:2 – New International Version Bible