It’s as simple as that.
Tove Jansson, Fair Play
I have been pondering for years why shrews are shrews and sheep are sheep (sorry if you don’t like my terms, it is just a habit I’ve gotten into I can’t, nor want, to get out of). Thanks to Dr. Mark McDonald of Dissident MD I think I now know the answer: shrews are curious, sheep are not. Of course there are exceptions to this. But as the bell curve would reveal, the exceptions are outliers.
Needless to say I have done no formal survey, but of all the shrews I know, I can see a clear spark of curiosity running throughout what I know of their lives. And the sheep? Dullards for the most part—disinterested in most complexities of life, run of the mill, live life as it comes.
Now, in my personal life there are some notable exceptions. I know a few amazing sheep who have very interesting lives. But even with them, there is a general discomfort with change, of new things, and little interest in things that do not have a direct input on their daily life. They also have a real aversion to rocking the boat. If they feel all is fine as it is, why let the truth muck it up?
The shrews I know, however, seem to be a bit different. Shrews don’t seem to mind rocking the apple cart a bit. They are willing to drop some sacred cows along the way to the truth. Again, sheep, in a general way, seem to be more reluctant to disrupting anything they consider to be sacrosanct.
Here is an example of a typical conversation between a sheep and a Flat Earther, and a shrew and a Flat Earther, when both sheep and shrew do not believe the earth is flat:
Shrew and Flat Earther:
Flat Earther says, “the world is flat, it is not a globe.”
Shrew says, “oh really? Tell me why you think that.”
Sheep and Flat Earther:
Sheep says, “you are a nut job conspiracy kook.”
The shrew is curious, the sheep is not. Get my point?
Again, as you approach the extremes of either of these groups (shrews and sheep) you will find more exceptions. I know a few super sheep who appear to be crazy in their obsessions with all of this absurdity and that obsession definitely comes from a place of “interest”—or at least something like it.
So what is curiosity and interest? We all know the definitions of these two words, don’t we? But can we really describe these rather elusive terms? I know I can’t, not easily. Have any of you readers been depressed? Probably everyone has been depressed at one time or another. How you are feeling when you are depressed is an example of what it feels like not to have curiosity or interest. This isn’t always true, but it is still a good way to tap into that “feeling.”
Does this mean all sheep are depressed and there are no depressed shrews? Of course not. It is also difficult to tell if the depression brings about the loss of curiosity, rather than lack of curiosity brings about depression. Who knows?
From a more objective view, and no less confusing, we could say curiosity is what you feel when you are interested in something, and interest comes when you are curious. That helps a lot, eh?
Since I am not doing a very good job at describing these two words, let’s just make the assumption that if you readers give it a bit of thought, you should be able to come up with definitions that will suffice for this article.
I have discovered in my own work as a psychotherapist, that most “life issues” will lead back to a lack of curiosity (I will narrow the two words down to only one for less awkwardness in writing and reading this essay). Meaning in life, purpose in life, joy, fun, fulfillment, among other descriptive words, all seem to rely on a very strong curiosity—i.e., interest in things, pursuits, discoveries, and adventures, among others. How often have you decided not to go out with friends, venture to a new restaurant, read a new book, because you just “didn’t feel like it.”
Of course fear is the great killer of curiosity, as well as a few other things. Although fear can be a great motivator. The kind of fear I am talking about is the kind that brings on helplessness and hopelessness.
There are a myriad of reasons why we lose a sense of curiosity in our lives. Among them things like low self esteem (why bother? I won’t succeed anyway), low physical energy, a negative worldview, a materialist’s view of nature, a disconnect in relationship with family, friends, and sexual partners—to name only a few.
The most apropos to this article would have to include a nefarious and intentional drumming out of anything “awesome” in life, a negative indoctrination from a very early age that transitions the once very curious child into the dependent, frightened, and non-thinking adult. More often than not, when a person loses their curiosity they lose an intimate awareness of their own soul and the soul of the world around them. They become obsessed with the machinations of life, the acquisition of material wealth and things, all designed to make life, without the curiosity to discover its mysteries, easier to navigate
Once again I am preaching to the choir here, but think about friends and family who are more on the sheep side of things. Are they curious to know more about why all this is happening? Do they even have an interest in what it is that has seemingly taken over their lives? Are they even the least bit curious about you and why you seem crazy to them? Why you believe what you believe? It seems to me that they don’t. They simply do not care—they are not curious.
Now, blaming lack of curiosity on all of our current woes may seem like a stretch, and it very well may be to some extent. But it is a curious idea, if I may say so myself. As previously stated, I see this so often in my work with clients, in particular the younger ones. Few in this demographic seem to be “interested” in much these days. I often tell people who are stuck in the “dullness” of life to find something to be an expert in. I suggest they pick something that has no link to wealth, health, or “fun.”
“Become an expert in everything there is to know about the cotton boll weevil, or the United States Civil War, specifically in the state of Georgia, or Ludwig Beethoven’s string quartets.”
I suggest they pick something that they have had some sort of interest in in the past, but that isn’t even necessary. I tell them that the point in the exercise is to acquire their interest and curiosity through the act of becoming an expert. I do not expect them to have it when they begin, but to develop it through the exercise. I also often suggest people try to learn a musical instrument, or go to a painting or sculpting class and begin that endeavor.
The “art route” (or any activity that takes skill and physicality to develop) is a bit more difficult, and that difficulty is often a deterrent in achieving the end point of the exercise, which is to pursue curiosity. Learning everything there is to know about a boll weevil takes no special skill to develop if you know how to read or watch You Tube videos—or are capable of taking a walk in a cotton field to encounter actual boll weevils.
You can accomplish the same sort of “behavioral mastery” by going on a “vision quest”—travelling to a distant foreign environment where you have to figure out how to survive, where and what to eat, how to pay for it, how to ask for directions in a foreign language, etc. These exercises develop and strengthen the same internal “muscles” that curiosity and interest use in the quest to “know more.”
The saying “curiosity killed the cat” is appropriate because cats have no fear if there is something intriguing for it to discover. Fear, as said, is one great killer of curiosity. The rest of that well-known saying, “but satisfaction brought it back” is not as well known. What do you think it means?
Are you curious to find out?
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