The need for curiosity by Glenn Schuckers

Let’s face it, truth is a tricky thing. For centuries people believed that the Earth was the center of the universe and that the sun moved around our home planet; they accepted that as the truth and everyone believed it. Later almost everyone believed that the Earth was flat; they accepted that as the truth and everyone believed it. On this continent in the seventeenth century a lot of people believed that some of their neighbors were witches and killed them; they accepted that as the truth and everyone believed it.

So it may be “true” that some of the things we believe to be the “truth” today will turn out to be not true as people look back at us a century from now. This leads me to believe that proclaiming something true might be dangerous.

But it will only be dangerous if we accept it without question.

A famous quote by a very intelligent, highly respected physicist might shed some light on the question, “What then is true?” Albert Einstein wrote the following,“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.”

It is often shortened to a simple sentence: “The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

A couple of hundred years before that an American philosopher said something very similar. In his essay “Self-Reliance” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”

In simple language the highest goal we should have is being curious.

Back in the last century, when I had the privilege of teaching young people, I used to tell them that my one regret about being “older” was that there was so much I did not know and there was an ever shortening period of time to learn it.

I do not know if it has always been this way, but the one thing that seems to me to be missing in the world today is this thing called curiosity. Too many people have the opinion that they know all they need to know or that they know everything.

The simple “truth,” if I can use that word, is that no one ever knows enough, and the sadder fact is that as our knowledge expands there is a ever-growing universe of things learn.

When I was a teenager and even as a younger adult I could fix most of the things that went wrong with a machine. If a tractor did not start, I would check to see if there was a spark in the ignition, if fuel was getting through a carburetor or if a fuel line was clogged.

If a typewriter didn’t work, I could clean the keys and check the other parts that needed to move.

Today??? Cars and trucks don’t have a carburetor, they have fuel injection, whatever that means. I am now typing this on a computer and if the letters stop showing up on the screen, the only thing I know to do is shut it off, wait and then restart it, which sometimes works.

I can still do some work on a diesel engine since I know that if it gets the right fuel and air it will probably work, but if our car won’t start I’ll probably call a shop. I did change a battery a few weeks ago, which is about as far as I will go.

But the fact that the world has become more complicated and gets more complicated each day is no excuse for not being curious. There is, in my opinion, no excuse for not being curious. But since I get to use this space to pass along some opinions, here are some reasons I have for people not being as curious.

But first a short story to illustrate.

My dad left formal schooling after the eighth grade, as did many young men who lived in the country in the first few decades of the twentieth century. They were needed to work on the family farm. There were five boys in his family, and they were all needed on the farm. He continued to work there until he married and moved out on his own and his father-in-law convinced him there was work in the area’s coal mines. So he went from being a farmer to being a miner. Working in the mines “Jeff,” his nickname, saw that there was room for advancement but to move forward in the mines he needed more education. He enrolled in a correspondence course and on its completion he took a test and qualified as a “fire boss,” later opening his own mines and using what he had learned in that course. Still later, having gone back to farming, he educated himself as a fruit grower. All that with an eighth grade education, but most importantly, a curious mind.

The thing that was different then was that there was a reason for being curious. Learning things then led to a better life. Learning things now? Maybe not so much. We have become a society of “it’s not what you know but who you know” which stifles curiosity. It makes knowing “stuff” less important.

We also seem to reward laziness more than ambition. It takes effort to learn, and if the reward is not there I think some folks, especial young folks, don’t see any reward for being curious.

It also takes time for curiosity to pay off and more and more we are a society of instant reward. Easier and quicker to scratch a card and win $5,000 than to work weeks to get the same.

In the end, however, effort, time and curiosity will build a better community, a more stable society. We just need to learn that.

I am optimistic and I believe that the current lack of curiosity is not a permanent state. Maybe the next generation, or the generation coming of age now, will look around and realize how much better their lives would be if they would “explore if it be goodness.”