I don’t remember where I was, or who the speakers were, or even what they were discussing. In fact, the only portion I can recall consisted of two short sentences- one by each of the speakers. In the midst of some otherwise unremarkable exchange about credit scores or who knows what, one of the two asked a question:
I’m curious, why exactly is that?
Since I hadn’t been paying much attention, I never learned exactly what ‘that’ was. Nevertheless, all that really concerned me was the other speaker’s response. After a few seconds of seemingly deep thought, the person let out an innocent laugh, and said:
Why ask why?
I suppose I could have just been having a bad day. Perhaps my car had broken down or I’d learned some sad news about a friend. I can’t say for sure. For whatever reason, though, that simple question rattled me like few others ever have.
You know that thing that happens when you witness some exchange that makes you upset while in public? How it sits with you for the next hour, and then, perhaps, the next day, or week, or month? You replay the scene to yourself and think of all the great things you would have said, if only you’d thought of them at the time.
Sometimes I do that, too. In this case, it’s probably good that I kept my reactions to myself, for they surely would have been excessive in comparison to what the person had said. But still…
* * *
I thought, most of all, about stories-
About the time when an astronomer looked up from his telescope, gazed over at his colleague, and said, “I’m curious, why is it, again, that we’re so certain the Earth is the center of the universe?”
About the time when some ship captain nudged his friend on the shoulder, pointed out towards the horizon, and said, “I’m curious, why is it we’re so sure the ocean just drops off into nothing? Why is it we’re so sure there isn’t more out there?”
About the time when some white daughter of a slave owner walked up to her father as they were observing the plantation, and said, “I’m curious, why exactly is it we’re confident these people are so different from us?”
I thought about other kinds of stories, too. About the kinds that never made it into the history books because they never even happened. Or, similarly, because some question actually was asked, but was then immediately quelled by someone simply responding, “Why ask why?”
* * *
Is curiosity some magical ingredient that makes stories great and the world right?
I don’t know for sure, but I highly doubt it. Still, it does seem to show up in many of the stories we tell, and in many of those we witness.
Curiosity is not all that’s required. But, why ask why?
There are a thousand good reasons. More than any of them, though, it’s because we have to.
Later this week…
The rest of this week, we’ll be exploring ‘curiosity’ from other angles. We’ll be asking questions like:
- What exactly is curiosity?
- Are all people curious? Are some more than others?
- Is curiosity unique to humans?
- What mechanisms lead to and shape curiosity?
In addition, we’ll continue to ask the most basic question being asked throughout this site:
- What does this idea (curiosity) have to do with story?
See you back tomorrow at 12:34!