What Kills Curiosity
In a recent session with my coach, I gained a fresh understanding of the importance of curiosity and the value of not having answers.
The story went something like this.
I told my coach about a recent session with one of my clients - a man dealing with anxiety and emotional issues following a serious illness. Part way through his session, when I thought I understood what he was up against, I shared with my client my understanding of how a person’s thinking and state of mind distorts their perception of the world.
When I finished, I asked my client if he heard anything helpful - if he now saw his recent struggles with mood swings in a different light?
He reflected quietly for a few seconds and then began talking about a new fitness routine he’d recently undertaken.This seemed only remotely connected to what I’d hoped he would hear. I interrupted him and repeated my insights about his situation again.
At this point in my telling of the story, my coach interrupted me.
“Weren’t you curious about what your client heard?” he asked. “It might have revealed something new for him about the source of his anxiety and mood swings.”
Immediately, I saw where he was pointing. There was a disconnect in the conversation with my client as wide as the Mississipi. How could I have missed such an obvious opportunity for inquiry?
Where had my curiosity gone?
Curiosity and the Back-Seat Driver
In a way, coaching is like helping another person drive - while sitting in the backseat with a wall between the front and back seats and only a peep hole to see and hear through.
At its finest, helping another person navigate that car comes down to educated guessing.And as a coach, the impact of my guesses depends on the depth of my listening and the force of my curiosity about what I cannot see, hear, or know. When a person’s response to my guess doesn’t correlate or isn’t congruent, I should immediately wonder -- what was that about?
The dictionary defines curiosity as “a strong desire to know or learn something; to understand.” It thrives in the company of the unknown. And there are few greater unknowns than another human being’s inner experience of life.
My experience of anything and everything is unique to me - as yours is to you. At the same time it can’t be fully known to anyone else. But curiosity fades when I think I know the answer. Curiosity gets quieter in an inverse relationship to certainty. It goes silent when I know.
I can really never know my clients’ experience. Even when I get a feel for how they’re driving and navigating, I’m making educated guesses on how they may improve their driving.
So then, what do I have to offer them?
I once asked Linda Pransky, who has over forty years experience teaching people about the inside-out understanding, how she prepares for a client session.
“Easy,” she said. “I come to a session with nothing. I have nothing on my mind.”
When I pressed her for an explanation, she told me this. Linda’s teacher, Sydney Banks, theosopher, and discoverer of the Three Principles, once said to her:
“Always it’s an enlightening experience to realize you know less than you thought you did. Perhaps, some day you will realize you know nothing.Then, only then, will you know something.”
I have to laugh. For as much as I understand the truth and wisdom of this statement, I know that from time to time I will forget that I can’t know anyone’s experience but my own. I will forget that another person’s experience is something that ultimately only they can understand and resolve for themselves.
The best advice in the world won’t help someone else unless they see it for themselves. My aim is to remain open, curious, empty of knowing. And in the process, be a reflecting pool for others to glimpse something new and unseen within themselves.
So knowing nothing is the answer?
That makes me curious.