“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvellous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.“Albert Einstein
Preschool children ask an average of 100 questions per day, but shamefully, by middle school, they all but stop asking questions. In a world of abundant data and information, asking the right question is an invaluable skill. The answer can be found easily, coming up with the right question is much more difficult.
Unfortunately, children are rewarded more for having the right answer than asking the right question. They quickly learn that this approach is desired behaviour because they are rewarded for having answers rather than questions. This indoctrination discourages children to question, to think for themselves and to respectfully challenge the status quo. This programming manifests in later life in the workplace and contributes to large levels of employee disengagement all over the globe. As our forthcoming guest on the Innovation Show, David Marquet tells us: “Our work is reduced to following a set of prescriptions. Our creativity and innovations go unappreciated. Eventually, we stop trying and just toe the line. With resignation, we get by.”
The discouragement of curiosity is deeply engrained in our culture, but why? Until recently, people were employed for physical doing rather than thinking. In the past, most people were considered no more than serfs, there to do the bidding of a master. Education, knowledge and curiosity would mean people could think for themselves. If they could think for themselves, they would cause trouble. Perhaps they would rebel against unfair conditions? Perhaps they would upset the status quo? To discourage curiosity, folk stories, fairy tales and many aspects of culture warned of the perils of curiosity. This stems all the way back to the Greek Myths.
For Christmas my kids gave me a present of the Greek Myths, retold by Stephen Fry. I enjoy reading them to the kids at bedtime. This week we read about Pandora, the first mortal woman. She was an instrumental part of Zeus’ poetic plan to punish Prometheus for giving the mortals the gift of fire. This was both physical fire and the passionate fire inside, the spark that drives us, that kindles curiosity. Zeus knew that this inner fire would mean that one day, mere mortals would no longer need the Gods.An inner flame would spark a realisation that they were capable of so much more than servitude, causing irreparable upset to the status quo.
Pandora’s Jar (Box was a Mistranslation)
When Zeus sent Pandora down to the mortals, Pandora was given one rule. Just as God forbade Eve to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, Zeus gave Pandora a similar instruction. He gave her a container of secrets. Pandora’s box, you may be thinking, much like I did, but it was in fact a jar (box was a mistranslation by philosopher and scholar Erasmus). Zeus instructed her never to open this jar, not telling her why or what it contained. He purposely aroused her curiosity about the jar and temptingly said she must hide it away so she is not tempted. She agreed, oh no, she would never do such a thing, she vowed. You know, like I do, that was never going to happen.
One night, driven by curiosity, she couldn’t bear it anymore and digging at the ground where she buried the jar, she twisted it open to break its waxen seal. Initially, she thought she had released a flurry of beautiful winged creatures, which escaped from the jar. Unfortunately for us mortals, these creatures were far from beautiful.
Until then we lived in paradise, free from any discomfort, cared for by Prometheus. Zeus has set Pandora up to unleash a curse on humanity. These winged creatures clawed their way through the air like locusts wreaking havoc wherever they could find inhabitants. These were their names: Ponos, Hardship; Limos, Starvation; Algos, Pain; Dysnomia, Anarchy; Psedudea Lies; Neikea, Quarrels; Amphilogiai, Disputes; Makhai, Wars; Hysminai, Battles; Androktasiai and Phonoi, Manslaughters and Murders. Illness, Violence, Deceit, Misery and Want had arrived on earth. Death, disease, poverty, crime, famine and war were now an inevitable and eternal part of humanity’s lot.
When Pandora opened the jar and soon realised her folly, she quickly closed it to stop the creatures from escaping. However, in doing so she trapped in one last creature that was at the bottom of the jar. That creature was called Elpis, Hope.
The underlying message in our culture is that being curious leads to danger or misfortune. Likewise the idiom, “curiosity killed the cat” is used to warn of the dangers of unnecessary investigation or experimentation. However, there is a second part to the idiom that is often overlooked, “curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.” In a similar vein, just as Pandora released the creatures from the jar, she should have fully opened it and in doing so would have released hope as well as despair.
Death, disease, poverty, crime, famine and war are part of our lot, but hope, curiosity, collaboration and community are the antidote. Embrace curiosity, but embrace it fully and next time you open a Pandora’s jar, throw the lid away.
This post was inspired by the Greek Myths combined with the latest episode of the Innovation Show with Ozan Varol on his book “Think Like a Rocket Scientist”.
“We should be fuelled by intrigue. Where certainty ends, progress begins.” – Ozan Varol
Our guest on The Innovation Show wants us take ownership of our lives, to question assumptions, stereotypes, and established patterns of thinking. Where others see roadblocks, he wants us to see opportunities and to bend reality to our will.
He is author of Think Like A Rocket Scientist Ozan Varol
Watch here and excuse the homemade hair cut 🙂
More about Ozan here: https://ozanvarol.com