If you have spent much time hanging out with a 3-year-old, you know that one word comes out of their mouth more often than any other word: WHY?
I remember spending a week camping with my wife’s family, and I got to spend a lot of time with my niece, who was about to turn 3. She was no exception. Pretty much anything I said, she responded with, “Why?”
Kids are naturally curious. They want to know why the sky is blue and why lightning bugs light up. They have all sorts of questions about everything. They are constant learners. Learning comes natural to children—it’s fun, exciting, and part of who they are. They are designed to learn and discover new things about themselves and the world around them.
Losing Our Curiosity
At some point, we tend to lose this natural ability of curiosity. I think there are a lot of reasons for this. The powerful structures of society, whether it is family, school, or the church, tend to promote conformity, and punish anything outside the norm. Our peers do the same thing growing up. Anything that is outside the norm is criticized, ridiculed, and made fun of. To obtain acceptance, we narrow our range of acceptable behaviors and directions. As we grow older, we become more and more set in our ways.
Lack of Curiosity Holds Us Back
But this lack of curiosity and wonder holds us back. We stop growing and learning. We follow one specific way of doing things, even if it isn’t congruent with our true self. We also judge and criticize others who are different. We become part of those larger societal structures that squelch the curiosity of others. It’s a bad cycle.
Curiosity and Fear
I think at a foundational level, we lose our sense of curiosity because of fear. We fear punishment for continuing to question what has been universally accepted. When we were children, punishment came in the form of time-outs, bad grades, and ridicule on the playground. As adults, the specifics have changed, but the underlying process is the same. Don’t step out of line too much at work. This is how we’ve always done things. Don’t question the teachings of the church too much. This is what God is like. And so on.
One of my deepest longings for myself and others is that we would have the freedom and openness to reclaim our sense of curiosity and wonder. The freedom to be yourself is one of the greatest gifts we can claim. Not everyone gets there. But it’s what I long for.