“Should-be-ness” versus “is-ness”

What curiosity enables in us.

Curiosity, or inquisitiveness, allows us to be comfortable with the vastness of human experience.

I take this expression from Michael’s feedback on his interviews of his parents, in which he wished to learn from each separately what were their timelines before they became a couple. He noted that we were both inquisitive, with curiosities that were different but complimentary.

It is inquisitiveness that allows us firstly to accept what is in front of us, then to explore what it is, what it means, and how we might meaningfully interact with it – clearly enabling us to make the most of each moment, of each encounter with whatever it is that we discover.

On the other hand, we know people who act as if they are terrified of such unknowns, impose all sorts of judgements and criticisms on them and resort to denials which are actually their excuses for not engaging with that vastness of human experience, a vastness that apparently we have learned to accept, to love, and to embrace.

I look back over the years and realise I have seen how some people seek and find reasons for ignoring, or not accepting a vastness of human experience that is for them unbearable, intolerable, threatening, overwhelming or challenging.

During our morning-coffee-on-the-veranda discussion of this today, we realised with three sons growing up in a house of inquisitiveness, they experienced recognition and encouragement that was a consequence of us accepting who they were and being ever-curious about their thoughts and attitudes to the things we did together. For example, at the end of a day trekking, when they were quite small and we lived in Nepal, asking them what they particularly liked about a day and what they disliked about the day, and having them draw a picture about the day’s journey, engaged them in our inquisitiveness. Perhaps this encouraged their curiosity. (… and how those journey journals are precious reading so many years later.) As young men now, they are three wonderful human beings who embrace the vastness of human experience and recognise the worth and value of other human beings.

We talked a little about a particular friend, his attitude to science and his apparent intolerance of things which he says are not scientific. He expresses this in strong judgements about the books we read in a book club to which I belong, with opinions which seem to be his way of avoiding any exploration of nebulous issues, of emotional or spiritual ideas or of mysterious phenomenon. He responds to such things in the book itself, or in discussion of others’ reactions, with judgements of the book – such as its poor character development, its lack of plot or weak editing. Another friend, a former work colleague, would get upset when I talked about infinity or the wondrous nature of connections and coincidences. He once told me that I should not encourage speculation about such things.

We also talked this morning about the book ‘Apeirogon’ by Colum McCann, which I am reading at the moment for my book club and which I discovered just a day or so ago Michael happens to be also reading. It based on the story of relationship between an Israeli and a Palestinian who both lost a daughter in or near Jerusalem. The story is told as a spiral, a story about circles, a story about connections, one which the friend who professes to love science has already announced is unreadable. I found it to be brilliant.

From our discussion on the veranda today, I share the conclusion that one can have ‘inquisitiveness and comfort with the vastness of human experience’ at one end of a spectrum, at the other end of which one finds ‘blind adherence to doctrine, dogmatic world views and absolute intolerance of uncertainty’. It is in this discussion that Leslie and I realise that it is also a matter of ‘curiosity’ versus ‘judgement’.

Or is it ‘should-be-ness’ versus ‘is-ness’? Perhaps.

Maybe ‘curiosity’ versus ‘grasping for certainty’, as inquisitiveness that encourages curiosity and enables tolerance of uncertainty, compared to an intolerance of uncertainty which leads to the seeking and finding of answers and solutions and grasping their certainty.

( Bill Pigott, Berry, February 2022)

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