For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a person who thrives off of curiosity. While it has bitten me in the ass more times than I’d like to admit, the lessons that I’ve learned from being curious are the lessons that have molded me into the very human being that is writing before you today.
Think about the last question you asked. What was it? Why did you ask that question? Who did you ask the question to? Do you regret asking that question?
The answer to that last question is probably no, hopefully. More than likely, you asked the question, got the answer, listened with intent, and then walked away with knowledge that you didn’t have before, leaving you ready (and more confident) to ask the next question. You may have even felt relieved, less stressed than before you knew the answer, or even less angry if the stakes were higher.
The power of asking questions lies within the answers that we get in return. Whether you're looking at large-scale issues, like politics, or conflicts that you're facing on a more personal level, the world is full of disputes. Oftentimes these disagreements begin with misinformation and/or assumptions made with lack of education.
Our Minds are Powerful, but Stress-Inducing
Asking questions is important because oftentimes the confusion, anger, resentment, stress, anxiety, sadness, and even loneliness that we as humans feel can begin to be solved with an answer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a severe anxiety moment about something that I was just too afraid to ask about. Once I finally obtained the courage to ask, I was met with an answer far better than any of the barbaric things that my brain came up with prior to asking.
The Danger of Assumptions
As humans, we tend to assume things instead of asking questions. It saves us from the confrontation that we often like to avoid out of fear of stepping outside of our comfort zone. Sure, assuming things can fill that void of what is unknown, but more often than not, we are wrong. We are wrong about the things we assume concerning the lives of others, the experiences that they've been through, and what’s going on behind closed doors. The truth is that until you've asked those questions and listened to those answers, you do not know those answers.
"Your narrative is not another person’s truth, unless you’ve done the research."
Assumptions are a disservice to the people around you, because when you assume something about another person, you are invalidating their truth and the life that they’ve lived. Your narrative is not another person’s truth, unless you’ve done the research.
Think about it this way: You’ve been given a writing assignment that will be shared to the public upon completion, and in this assignment, your duties consist of researching and writing about a historical event. While doing this assignment, you become lazy; you don’t want to do the research because you’ve told yourself it will be too difficult (your first assumption). Now that you’ve decided that conducting proper research will be too difficult and time consuming, you decide to take a deep dive into your own mind and write about what you think happened (assumption number two). You’ve written five pages worth of your own assumptions, and now you feel that your assignment is ready to be turned in.
After you turn it in, it’s released to the public, and your work is seen by hundreds of people. Everyone that reads your work believes what you wrote; not only do they believe it, but they share it with their friends and family, who then share it to their networks, and so forth. You’ve made your assumptions, you’ve shared them to the world, and now an immense group of people believe what you wrote and are sharing it to others. These people are now uneducated on a topic that they believe themselves to be educated on, and you've spread misinformation to a countless amount of people while claiming your assignment to be true. All of this because you started with the assumption that the work was going to be too hard. Had you done the research, you would’ve found that it would’ve been much easier than creating all of that garbage in your own head, and then spitting it out on platforms that people trust and are influenced by (although we shouldn’t be so quick to believe everything we see on the internet anyways, but that’s really a whole separate issue).
The lesson about assumptions and the importance of asking questions is crucial to just about every single aspect of our lives, and the sad thing is that it’s often a topic that is largely overlooked. The vast majority of the fighting, political differences on all parties, social issues, and mass disagreements that we all experience on a day-to-day basis are predominantly rooted in the misinformation and lack of education that we see in the media today. This leads to lack of compassion and empathy, which leads to the creation and reinforcement of cold-hearted, close-minded, brutally-linear human beings that can’t properly communicate with anyone other than people exactly like themselves.
Curiosity Killed the Cat, but not the Human
Curiosity is how we learn, how we grow, and how we adapt. As we get older, we tend to replace that sense of child-like curiosity with more steadfast feelings that we believe are easier to count on (there’s another assumption). These feelings can look like a lot of things, but oftentimes they’re negative: anger, resentment, frustration, etc. Without the human need to know more, we lose the very essence of why we are here on this earth. From curiosity comes learning, and from learning comes empathy, compassion, and even love if we let ourselves be curious enough.
The word "sonder," from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, is defined as "the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own — populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness — an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you'll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk."
While "sonder" is not exactly a real word, the concept behind it is as true as can be, and it's something that should not be overlooked. Every single person has their own story, their own life, their own fears, their own issues, their own everything. We as human beings must stop categorizing other people based off of the little snippet of their life that we see, and especially, we must stop making assumptions about the lives of others based off of that glimpse. Every single person is just as important, complex, and capable as the next.
When you take the time to ask the question or do the research, no matter what the situation may be, you win, and so do the other people involved.
"Keep your mind and your heart open, always."
The point, and what I’m trying to say is: keep your mind and your heart open, always. I know it can be scary, and I know that it’s uncertain what could come after, but you’ll never regret asking a question; you’ll never regret getting an answer; you’ll never regret obtaining clarity; and you’ll never regret learning and growing. Life is too short to project preconceived notions on the elaborate spectrum of intersectional identities that belong to our neighbors. Wouldn’t it be better to ask, listen, and care?