I went for an easy 3 mile run around my neighborhood after work today. Along the way I passed by not one, but two children around preschool age who I heard ask their parents/guardians what I was doing. I heard the responses of “Running” followed by the child asking “Why?” Unfortunately I didn’t hear the responses. I laughed to myself after each encounter, but as I ran my mind began to contemplate the topic of curiosity.
Children are curious by nature. Even the most reserved and quiet child has this trait. It is part of who they are, wondering and questioning and exploring. Some children are satisfied with simple responses to their questions while others dig deeper, push harder and want to know everything in detail.
I recall a memory from a few years ago when one of my young second cousins asked me what was on my arm and pointed to a mole. I told her a mole. She asked why I had so many, and I said a lot of people have moles. To this she responded in a very matter of fact way “I don’t.” I was told a story of another young cousin who upon visiting the kindergarten classrooms for back to school night asked why the other class was learning a different letter of the alphabet from her class. The teacher explained that they were doing it in a different order, and that all the students would learn the alphabet by the end of the year. My cousin responded “Well I certainly hope so!”
We often laugh at the questions and phrases that come out of children’s mouths wondering where they heard something or what prompted a certain thought. We answer their questions honestly when we know the correct response, and we humor them when we don’t. Although sometimes exasperating we do our best to feed them the knowledge that they seek.
“Personal” questions never seem as intrusive when asked by a child. We never take offense to their probing questions that may point out our differences from them. We explain things to them as simply as we can, wanting to educate them. They don’t view us any differently upon receiving the responses, they just seem happy to obtain an answer.
Why then, as children age, does it seem that society seeks to kill their curiosity?
As children grow older, they start to learn that certain questions aren’t “appropriate” to ask people. They’re taught this by adults all around them – family members and friends, teachers and religious leaders. They’re told not to ask another child why she has two mommies, or their grandpa why he has no hair or the neighbor why he’s in a wheelchair.
Is this not the first step in teaching children to judge others? By limiting their freedom to ask questions, to seek understanding and foster an open dialogue, they’re learning to rely on stereotypes, the media, and any source other than the direct one to answer their questions.
In a country that seems divided in every possible way – politically, racially, religiously, etc. we seem at a loss on how to connect with one another. We’re fearful to ask the tough questions, to have the deeper dialogues. How can we connect to those who are different than us if we’re afraid to ask them questions about those things that make them different? Aren’t questions how people get to know one another? The starting point to finding commonality?
There are certainly appropriate ways to ask a person about “personal” things, and anyone with decent manners would respond politely if he or she preferred not to talk about a particular topic. But people should be allowed to be curious and to ask the questions. No more fear of being politically incorrect, no more fear of offending people. Just a polite, open dialogue that begins with a simple question of curiosity no different than what a child would ask.