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Gillian Sanger

How can we cultivate curiosity?

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In a time of great tension and debate, I am really starting to feel a growing need for curiosity to infuse itself in our conversations. I've listened to a wonderful speaker recently, Ayishat Akanbi, who talks a lot about the power and importance of curiosity as it helps us to ease defensiveness and judgment. Now, how we cultivate curiosity during difficult conversations is another thing. It is indeed easier said than done!

However, like most things, I believe it to be a practice we can strengthen. One tip I have for cultivating curiosity is to first become more curious about our own thoughts and beliefs (as mindfulness practice facilitates!). When we are curious about how we ourselves think (including all the experiences that have brought us to the belief systems we hold now), it becomes easier to remain curious and open to others.

Does anyone else have additional suggestions or ideas for how we can cultivate curiosity to a greater degree?

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I tried curiosity with a neighbor who treated others well in the neighborhood. However, he constantly expressed racist thoughts and generalizations about black people. Yet h'e couldnt account for the source of his racism. He had been unable to relate to black employees of a store he managed and had to be moved to be a manger elsewhere. l had to walk a tightrope in this conversation and needed all my skills as a therapist to have this conversation successfully. The origin was in his own family. He had been a gifted sportsman in high school. His parents needed  his income from a job to meet family necessities. He still felt the rage over having had to sacrifice his sports dreams. To him, anyone who received andy kind of government aid was not making the sacrifices he had to make, and therefore got breaks he never had. He generalized from that anger and hurt to any and all black people who needed government aid to live. We barely made it through that conversation though we had a good relationship. It helped me understand him but did nothing for him to help him change himself. It helped me realize an important thing, behind racists and bullies lie fear, anger and some great hurt that prompts irrational ideas. I do not show curiosity much to anyone who is racist as barring an overall good relationship preceeding such a discussion it can prompt the rage to be directed at the questioner.

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I believe people need to feel safe and free from judgment in order to express curiosity and be open to the possibility of change.  This involves creating an environment of acceptance for whatever may come to the surface and acceptance for the emotions of others without trying to fix or change them. It involves a willingness to explore from "I wonder why/if etc" rather than "why do you believe."  Trying harder to understand than to be understood can go a long way......something we all need to work on starting with me.  We also need to accept that what we have to say is not going to change someone else's beliefs but may ignite curiosity and movement in that person to pursue an internal exploration.  

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A couple days ago I listened to a dhamma talk by Ajahn Sujato in which he explained that the word “educate” derives from words meaning “to draw out of.” Adding to what Katie said, I take this to mean nurturing one’s inherent qualities rather than trying to indoctrinate and condition that person to meet others’ expectations and wishes. The difference to me feels like one of acceptance and caring—that encourages expansion of interest and growth—versus aggression and disdain, that is hurtful and discouraging. Is it possible that people cling to such outrageous beliefs and act out in such ridiculous ways because they feel safe with what is familiar and have been made to be fearful of stepping or peeking-out from their comfort zones? I don’t know.

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I think that is a big part of what I might call limited thinking.  I think in the same way we are empathetic with stories of abuse, etc, we need to express (albeit not easy) empathy to folks who need to elevate themselves above others and find fault with color, religious, gender, etc differences.  If we can use curiosity to place doubt in their minds about their viewpoint, maybe we can make a small chip in the facade.  Staying out of judgmental thinking for those who are being judgmental is a battle I continue to work on internally.  In the same way a person has anxiety about leaving their home or going to the super market perhaps there are those that experience anxiety when confronted with difference.  I believe there is research about this now and some work on relearning for people who struggle with judgmental biases/hate.  

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Hi.  I just signed up for the program and am very enthused about it.  I also struggle with judgment of the judgmental.  Donald Rothberg, a member of the teachers council at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, has done a lot of work on "Transforming the Judgmental Mind" including retreats based on that theme.  Anyone interested can access his talks on Dharma Seed.  Look under "teachers" then "Donald Rothberg" then "talks by this teacher", then "transforming the judgmental mind".  In fact, he is doing another retreat (online from Southern Dharma) starting on Sunday, Oct. 25,  Donald is a superb  teacher.  Good luck with the struggle!  That's a tough one.  

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Thank you all so very much for your thoughts about and personal experience with this! I resonate with so much of what has been shared, and one thing that really stood how to me was what Katie, you said here:

On 10/11/2020 at 10:57 AM, katie garnett said:

We also need to accept that what we have to say is not going to change someone else's beliefs but may ignite curiosity and movement in that person to pursue an internal exploration.  

I can see this in myself greatly - this desire to change someone's mind, thinking that if only I say something the right way, something big will shift in their belief system. Yet, when reflecting on this notion and what you've written here, I am reminded that most change is gradual; a natural unfolding process. If we can ignite curiosity (while keeping our own inner source of it alive as well), maybe we become as a catalyst for long-term personal and collective growth.

I also love the idea of trying to understand over trying to be understood. This is definitely a tricky one for myself as well, but like most things, it is a practice that becomes easier the more the mental muscle is used.

 

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On 10/11/2020 at 6:31 PM, keithbecky@gmail.com said:

Hi.  I just signed up for the program and am very enthused about it.  I also struggle with judgment of the judgmental.  Donald Rothberg, a member of the teachers council at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, has done a lot of work on "Transforming the Judgmental Mind" including retreats based on that theme.  Anyone interested can access his talks on Dharma Seed.  Look under "teachers" then "Donald Rothberg" then "talks by this teacher", then "transforming the judgmental mind".  In fact, he is doing another retreat (online from Southern Dharma) starting on Sunday, Oct. 25,  Donald is a superb  teacher.  Good luck with the struggle!  That's a tough one.  

This sounds like a fantastic resource! I will definitely check it out. 'Judgment of the judgmental' - I can certainly relate. Thank you!

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