I’m curious about…

Over the last few years, I’ve begun using the phrase, “I’m curious about…” when I find myself in an unfamiliar situation. Sometimes, my curiosity stems from self-consciousness; I notice a gut reaction I have that I don’t like (for example, judgment). Rather than ignoring my negative reaction or simply rolling with it, I tend to push through and attempt to address the conflict productively. Most other times, my curiosity comes from the desire to learn. If I could have a superpower, it would be to be able to experience the world for a time from a completely different perspective. Short of being bitten by a magical spider though, I don’t think that will ever happen. The best approximation I can get is to eagerly learn from others.

I am also, at heart, an engineer and data nerd who thinks about life in terms of probabilities, particularly with a Bayesian framing. In the field of statistics, the Bayesian school of thought has increasingly re-gained popularity over the more orthodox frequentist school of thought. The crux of Bayesian statistics is the concept of adjusting your a priori… in other words: learning.

You start your analysis with a guess on what will happen. Maybe it’s a well-educated guess based on lots of existing data and analysis. Often you are in an entirely new situation so you make a SWAG: a scientific wild-ass guess.

Then, you see what happens. You test with real-life data and you learn. You adjust your a priori. Each time you get more data, you do it again. It’s an iterative learning process, a way to re-train and hone your gut instinct, to move away from presupposed “right answers” to more nuanced understandings of situations.

A recent example of curiosity in action in my life comes from a friendship I have: a long-standing one (10 years!). Our friendship has been based on mutual appreciation of life and introspection, a mutual friend, and shared experiences.

We also have fairly divergent views on the role of government and a variety of public policies. For a long time, I didn’t know this but when it finally came up, my surprise (a reaction reflective of my own personal development areas) quickly turned into curiosity. I asked my friend if they would be willing to talk head-on about our differing views. We got on a call and did just that. Our conversation was never intended to, nor did it, change anyone’s minds about public policy. But it deepened our mutual understanding of our common humanity. It deepened our awareness of the life experiences and histories we each carry that have shaped our viewpoints. And most importantly: this conversation didn’t break our friendship. If anything, I’d say it made it stronger.

Each day, I try my best to live with curiosity. So far, test results have been positive. I’ve rarely regretted being curious and asking, researching, or experimenting to learn more about what shapes an individual’s view of the world. And I’ve been glad to notice my a prioris becoming more compassionate as I become more empathetic.

This, to me, is what living with curiosity is about. It’s having viewpoints and the humility to evolve them. It’s recognizing that differences aren’t scary things to shy away from or isolate behind a wall made of stone or silence: they are often opportunities to learn and stretch and experience the world more fully.

Idea for post jotted down April 23, 2021. I marinated on the idea for a few weeks and drafted this post on May 15, 2021. I asked my friend for consent to share our story and after they granted permission, published on May 17, 2021.