Shifting from judgment to curiosity
“Be curious, not judgmental.” ~Walt Whitman
For most of us, judgment comes naturally. We make judgments about ourselves, situations, and other people all the time—often without even being aware that we have done so. But this is was not always the case. If you spend any time with young children, you will have the opportunity to observe the spirit of curiosity in action. Small children are curious about everything. They are eager to learn about the world around them and are full of questions and open to exploring all kinds of new possibilities.
As we grow into adulthood, we learn to stop asking questions. We begin to assume that we know all there is to know—or at least enough to judge a situation or person. This means that the shift from innate curiosity to judgment is a learned behavior. It also means that we can learn to shift back in the other direction.
There are three key steps to making this shift toward living in a spirit of curiosity. The first step is awareness. We start by becoming aware of the times when we have made judgments about people and situations in our lives. This awareness stems from monitoring our thoughts and learning to notice how judgment feels in our bodies. This often involves a feeling of closing down or becoming shut off from others.
The next step is questioning that judgment when we become aware of its existence. At this point, we begin bringing the spirit of curiosity to light as we consider other possibilities for what we are observing, we ask open questions of the people involved, and we open to the willingness to be proved wrong.
The third step is being willing to remain in the space of not knowing. Living in a spirit of curiosity means staying open to new information at all times, always aware that there might be something we don’t yet know that would shed new light on the situation.
Does shifting to living in a space of curiosity mean that we can never make decisions about what we believe to be right or wrong? Of course not! It means that we hold those decisions loosely with the knowledge that we may find out more information at any time that might cause us to change our decision. This open, inquisitive spirit is the key trait that is present in curiosity and absent in judgment.
This is much like living life as a scientist explores the world. Scientists observe the world, develop theories that could explain their observations, and then develop experiments designed to test their theories. However, the scientific method tells us that theories can only be proved wrong; they can never be proved right. Therefore, scientists live forever in the possibility that future experiments could prove their current theories wrong (or incomplete). They hold their current theories loosely as the best explanations they have so far while always asking new questions of the world around them (via their experiments). This way they are open to discover what they do not yet know or understand with the awareness that the next experiment (question) may prove everything they thought they understood so far to be wrong.
It is freeing to live our lives as scientists in our own worlds. When we are able to hold our current understandings loosely while continuing to search for new knowledge, we remain fully open to growth and to life.
Check back tomorrow for the final post in this series to consider what this looks like in daily life.
A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.