118. Curiousity

I don’t think curiosity killed the cat. I don’t know which particular cat the old adage refers to, but I am confident that it was not killed by curiosity. Perhaps it died because of its unintelligent approach to finding out what it wanted to know. Perhaps, in its attempt to learn, it was unlucky, and met with some fatal accident. Perhaps it spent years trying to learn, and died of old age. Let’s not condemn curiosity without a fair trial; it may have had nothing to do with the poor cat’s death.
The chances are that one of the first songs you ever learned is the one about the same curiosity that inspired Galileo, Copernicus, and scores of others to spend their lives trying to find out about those things that twinkle up above the world, so high. That curiosity inspired our space program. There are some aspects of that program that I find objectionable, but I respect the spirit of wonder that inspired it. Curious as I am, though, I have no desire to boldly go where none have gone before, for three reasons I can think of: I haven’t been to all the places people have boldly gone to, I don’t really want to leave Amherst for more than a few weeks, and I’m scared. But how I do wonder what those diamonds in the sky are.
If you listen to children, you will hear curiosity you may have forgotten, either because you long ago gave up trying to find out, or because you’ve been busy. Children ask questions. There’s a certain stage children go through wherein they explore the word “why.” As they go through that stage, we may think they’re just trying to annoy us. They ask questions, and instead of being satisfied with our answers, they ask, “Why?” Every answer we give is followed by “Why?” It used to drive me crazy.
Now, retired, I like that stage. I hope it lasts forever, maybe modified as children learn more and more sophisticated ways to ask why. I like to give serious thought to each “Why?” The children see that I’m taking the curiosity seriously, and when we finally get to “I don’t know,” and the whys continue, I continue the thoughtful I-don’t-knows. It’s not an endurance test; it’s an honest question with honest answers.
I know some children may be asking the question to test our patience. I do believe in setting limits, teaching children to find their own answers, and teaching them ways to avoid irritating us. But I don’t believe children should be ultimately stopped from asking why. If they’re bugging you, tell them to ask me.

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