By Bonnie Chernin
Via Character Signature Strength: Curiosity. Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; finding subjects and topics fascinating; exploring and discovering.1
Imagine a young mother cat that is not curious. She hears a bird squawking in the distance. It sounds strange – not like the usual sparrow she might kill to feed her new family. So she lets it go at that and goes back to sleep. Her young kittens are sleeping nearby, partially hidden by the shrubs but vulnerable.
Her sister Auntie Cat is awake sitting nearby. She also hears the bird. However, Auntie is a much more curious cat. Her intuition tells her something is not quite right, so she goes to investigate. The bird is closer now. Slowly, Auntie Cat moves forward because she senses this is no normal bird. Her back arches; she recoils in horror as she sees a hungry owl with eyes wide open glaring down at the little kittens. Those are her nieces and nephews! Her sister’s babies will not be the owl’s next meal.
She hasn’t got a moment to wait. Auntie Cat runs back to the kittens and grabs the first one by the scruff of its neck, moving it to a safe place. She frantically nudges her sister, who is yawning and finally awakens. Mother Cat looks over at her sister – annoyed at her interrupted nap. She glances for a moment at her young. Her heart beats faster. Mother Cat begins to panic, as she too sees the owl closing in. Mother and Auntie Cat grab the two remaining kittens and quickly move them to a drainpipe under the deck. It would prove to be a safe place for the brood. Totally hidden and secluded, the pipe is too small for the owl to get in. And the two Lucky Ladies were just in time.
They now stand guard in front of the pipe, and together the protective feline team is ready to ward off an attack by the fearsome looking bird. Lesson learned.
Ok, it may not win the award for best flash fiction story of the year. But hopefully, it does make a point about curiosity. It depends on the situation, doesn’t it? In this case, what would have happened had both Mother and Auntie Cat let their guard down and gone to sleep? They would likely be gone, as would the kittens. Curiosity saved them all.
When is curiosity a problem? When it becomes a risk. It leads us to take actions that create situations that are dangerous. At a party, someone says: “Try this new aged wine – it is awesome and it is my last bottle. Don’t miss out!” You know you have to drive home, but you may not have this opportunity again. So you drink a delicious glass of wine, and then another. Before you know it you are drunk. And you begin the drive home. It turns out you were right. You would not have the opportunity again.
Curiosity mends us, and trains us. It informs our intuition to know when it is safe to venture, or be safe and stand down. Curiosity is what makes us human, and draws others to us and us to others. However, it only does that when we gauge our inquisitive natures. Sometimes we may need to keep our desires safe, and other times safe is sorry and we need to make a move. That’s when gut feelings lend a hand.
Curiosity is wonderful when we take a genuine interest in what those we care about are doing with their lives. Our friend’s daughter needs to choose a college. We are curious and ask questions about what she hopes for; where her dreams are coming from and taking her. Our spouse gets a new job offer, and we are curious and ask if it is what he really wants, and why he wants it now. We are in it for them, and not for us. Those kinds of questions keep us curious, motivated and motivational.
To lead a full life, be filled with the joy of discovery. Ask questions and stay involved in the world, and explore all facets of every experience you have. There is beauty in everything and every place, if you look for it and safety when you need it.
Keep that in mind the next time you catch your cat sleeping with her kittens beneath a tree where a hungry owl perches. Or when your gut tells you the outcome is way too risky and the “awesome” stuff is just an old corky bottle of wine.
Copyright February 2018 by Bonnie Chernin. All rights reserved.
1Via Institute on Character, from the Via Survey of Character Strengths - http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths/Creativity