By Dr. Mary Yancy
In this uniquely challenging year of 2020, we’ve carried the heavy weight of polarized politics and a pandemic. The novel coronavirus has made us vulnerable, with a collective loss of safety and control. Many of us are separated from loved ones, from our usual work and play routines. Others might be taking on added responsibilities and have no time to themselves.
This dis-eased climate has affected us all, and many have struggled with increased anxiety, sadness, loneliness. The fact is there are effective ways to combat these feelings as we await a new normal. I’m going to focus on one route out of the blues - curiosity. Think of curiosity as the hub of a wheel that generates spokes of positive effects, such as connection, compassion, and critical thinking;
Curiosity connects us. And it can provide a great diversion, stepping out of our own world and into someone else’s. Think of a time when you happened to hear something about a person’s background or experience that changed your opinion of them. We might find unexpected similarities, and common ground builds bonds. Likewise, be curious about others’ professions or hobbies. Maybe your neighbor can show you how to use your new camera, and in turn you can give her a few Spanish lessons. Take time to ask more open-ended questions, ( “So you have four children?” becomes “What’s it like to have four children?”) and really listen in response, follow up on something they said. Most of us appreciate the positive attention when others show interest, and sharing strengthens our bonds and creates a sense of intimacy. Perhaps one silver lining in this time of collective fear and uncertainty is that we’re all in it together, the ultimate connection.
Curiosity fosters compassion, as well as self-compassion. The more we seek to understand ourselves and others, responding with open curiosity instead of reacting with judgment, the more we grow our capacity for compassion. I recently came across the term “compassionate curiosity”, described as the ability to gather information without judgment while simultaneously identifying with a person’s thoughts and feelings (thesafezoneproject.com). That might sound like a tall order, but it is indeed possible to train our brain for compassion. The practice involves seeking first to understand using an open, inquisitive mind and letting go of the impulse to label as good or bad/right or wrong by simply imagining and reflecting on another’s experience.
Curiosity builds critical-thinking, a guiding path through the barrage of news - often provocative, inaccurate, and confusing - that we navigate every day. By honing our critical thinking skills, we can better manage the deluge of political and pandemic information. Remember the basic debate skills we were taught in middle school? Fundamental to debate prep is learning all sides of a position or argument. We’re more likely to feel secure in our position when we’re curious and open to information and opinions on all sides.
A few tips:
- expose yourself to news programming out of your norm
- test your beliefs by finding support in multiple sources
- vet your media, ask yourself if the source is credible and why
- listen to podcasts on different topics from varied perspectives
- be your own devil’s advocate
We take a vacation for a change - of scene, of environment, of experience. It’s often part of our self-care routine. Though a lot of us are stuck at home for now, we can still seek a change of mind. With the spokes of curiosity described above (and there are many more), come discovery and opportunity. So take your curiosity wheel out for a spin!