Wednesday, April 03, 2013


I racked my brain all day* trying to come up with a suitable topic for C.  And yet it wasn't until I was on my way home, too exhausted to even read and so just letting my mind wander while staring out the window of the tram, that it came to me.  Forget about cucumbers (surely one of the most disgusting tasting things on the planet), forget about cocks and cunts and several other naughty and/or offensive-to-some words that I would never have been able to pull off writing about, forget about courgettes (because I badly need to keep zucchini in reserve for day Z), curiosity is where it's at.

It's possible that I have written about this before but since it's late and I want to get something posted for day C, I'm not going to bother searching the blog for it.  And if I have posted this before, in all honestly, I still get so annoyed about it that I have no problem with repeating myself.

I'm a big fan of Stephen Fry.  I liked him when I was a teenager watching A Bit of Fry and Laurie.  I liked him when I discovered a few years later that he was also an author and I read Making History.  I really like QI and I have enjoyed many hours reading his blog and watching youtube clips of him discussing events and topics like dying languages (his cameo in Ros na Rún, done while making a documentary about Irish, was pretty funny, too).  I have a lot of respect for many of his opinions and so I was very pleased to buy and start reading the second volume of his autobiography, The Fry Chronicles.  But then I discovered that on at least one topic I most definitely do not agree with him and I even found it difficult to believe that he could be so misguided.  Here's the paragraph that set me off:

"There are young men and women up and down the land who happily (or unhappily) tell anyone who will listen that they don't have an academic turn of mind, or that they aren't lucky enough to have been blessed with a good memory, and yet can recite hundreds of pop lyrics and reel off any amount of information about footballers, cars and celebrities.  Why?  Because they are interested in those things.  They are curious.  If you are hungry for food you are prepared to hunt high and low for it.  If you are hungry for information it is the same.  Information is all around us, now more than ever before in human history.  You barely have to stir or incommode yourself to find things out.  The only reason people do not know much is because they do not care to know.  They are incurious.  Incuriosity is the oddest and most foolish failing there is.

Picture the world as being a city whose pavements are covered a foot deep in gold coins.  You have to wade through them to make progress.  Their clinking and rattling fills the air.  Imagine that you met a beggar in such a city.
'Please, give me something.  I am penniless.'
'But look around you,' you would shout.  'There is gold enough to last you your whole life.  All you have to do is to bend down and pick it up!'
When people complain that they don't know any literature because it was badly taught at school, or that they missed out on history because on the timetable it was either that or biology, or some such ludicrous excuse, it is hard not to react in the same way.
'But it's all around you!' I want to scream.  'All you have to do is bend down and pick it up!' "

What annoys me is that this does not allow for the curiosity being drummed out of you by, for example, parents who don't have the time or the inclination to answer your questions and who continually tell their children to shut up, stop bothering them, go and watch telly.  Never mind those that might try to beat it out of their kids.  If you have any contact with kids and have seen how wonderfully curious they are about the world and absolutely everything in it, you may agree with the above.  But now imagine for a moment that that wonderfully curious child is told every day, multiple times, not to ask so many questions, or worse, not to be so stupid or any number of variations on a theme.  Imagine that they go to a school where questioning is not encouraged or even actively discouraged.  Or when slightly older, perhaps then having to deal with teasing and pressure from classmates for being a swot.  How long do you think it might take before curiosity is buried so deep it seems to have disappeared completely?  Or what about those people who are depressed and could no more find a speck of curiosity in themselves than they could produce a carefree smile?

I know that my own experiences colour my view on this topic.  But I genuinely don't believe that I am alone in this because there are so many people who really have gone through some of the really horrible, perhaps extreme, examples above, so much worse than I went through as a teenager.  And I try, I really do and more and more so as I go along.  But I don't think it's ever going to come as naturally to me as it probably once did.  And it's definitely true that I missed out on a lot of time in school and college, even simply by virtue of the fact that it was such a rote-learning experience in the time and place I was.  It's also true that I bemoan the fact that I was never really taught critical thinking far too often instead of just trying to learn now.  And that kind of thing is undoubtedly what he means.  But I know myself well enough and have come to terms with my past enough to know that the full blame for my incuriosity does not lie entirely at my feet.

So in an effort to end on a somewhat positive note my call to everyone is to please always encourage curiosity, even if it may inconvenience you slightly in the moment.  If someone asks you why, especially if a child asks why, take the time to explain it.  There aren't enough mentors in the world, I reckon.  And in the meantime I have tried to a certain extent to fake it till I make it by adopting as one of my guidelines for life something I read a while ago: to be interesting, be interested!

*This may be a slight exaggeration but I definitely thought about it more than once


Fiona said...

Loved reading this. So true how curiosity can be crushed out of a person.

(also a good reminder, since I'm at home with the young one for school holidays.)

sarah @ losingmylemons said...

Really interesting post... You're right in regards to children they are curious as hell. It is sad to see that natural interest knocked out of them.

My middle son, aged 7 is struggling in school, he doesn't fit into the 'box' he's creative I am told, but 'lazy'...!
He is many things, a pain in the arse is one of them.
But lazy! Never... he is bright, curious, funny, energetic, creative, but he is already being labelled and pushed aside.

I wonder how long it would be before he loses interest and gives up altogether.

Not because he isn't curious but because he isn't average...