When I was in my mid-thirties I remember a trip to the grocery store with my wife Diane, who would occasionally read the fine print on the labels. I noticed that she was holding the labels further from her eyes in order to see them clearly. I teasingly asked if she needed gadget arms to read the labels. She appropriately shot me back a look and said, “you wait your time is coming.” From time to time I would playfully tease her about holding things out so she could see them.
Several years later I was reading a book, and Diane was sitting next to me. She said “you are holding that book a little far away, aren’t you?” I said “no, that is just how I read”. I began to pull the book closer to my eyes, just to show her I could see close up. I suddenly realized that the text was really blurry. The joke was on me, I was about to begin payment for all the teasing I had done, along with a new pair of eyeglasses.
In the same way that eyeglasses allow us to see text more clearly, curiosity can help us to see our knowledge more clearly. We often believe that just because we understand the basics behind something, that we understand it fully. I believed that just because I could read the words on the page, that I could see the text clearly from close up. I was wrong.
Often in books or movies, a writer will make us aware of circumstances that the main character isn’t aware of. We find ourselves really wanting the character to realize that they aren’t seeing things clearly. Ironically we rarely stop to question whether we are seeing things clearly. Isn’t it likely that we, like the character in the story, can’t see all the things that have happened beyond our own vision. Something happens to us and we often react as if we fully understand what has happened.
This is one of those ideas that can completely change our lives for the better. It is humbling to realize that we only see and understand a small part of what is. It is empowering to acknowledge that deficit, and to use curiosity to see some of the things we can’t. Learning to be curious about the things that you experience in life is one of the best ways to grow as a person. If we only look at the surface of things, we are sure to miss important details.
As a people, we nearly missed the immense benefit of discovering Germ Theory. In the 1840s Ignaz Semmelweis observed that mortality rates in childbirth were reduced greatly, by simple hand washing by doctors and midwives. He attempted to publish his work, and it was largely rejected. It wasn’t until the 1880s that Germ theory was developed and gained any traction. We have also discovered that in the 14th century ceremonial hand washing was likely responsible for a much lower death rate from the Black Plague among European Jews.
There is always more going on than we realize. While we shouldn’t get caught up in endless details, we should keep an open mind about what is possible. Who knows what great things you might accomplish, by just getting curious.