Curiosity Killed the Cat

I find myself talking to strangers a lot. When I go out to anyplace there is bound to be a conversation I start about all sorts of random stuff. I was at the grocery store last week and I asked an old woman “why she had so much sparkling water in her cart?” She was very surprised by this question but soon responded in a quite bubbly way that it helps her stay away from pop. What a great idea! I always end up getting into conversations with customer service on the phone. These strangers are trained to be robots but I like to get to know where they are actually from and what they like to do. Curiosity is quite powerful and because I see myself as a curious guy I picked up the book A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life by Brian Grazer. Grazer is a big-shot Hollywood producer with a crap ton of movies and awards under his belt: A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Splash, Arrested Development, 24, 8 Mile, Empire, and J. Edgar to list a few. He credits his success to his curiosity because he is always asking questions and exploring ideas. A main component of him practicing curiosity is that he regularly conducts “Curiosity Conversations.” These one-on-one talks are with really interesting people who are highly acclaimed in their particular field: Margaret Thatcher, Ted Turner, Kanye West, Serena Williams, Jim Lovell, Isaac Asimov, Muhammad Ali, Jeff Bezos, among many others. Grazer is constantly asking questions and is always trying to expand his understanding of what makes people unique, accomplished, and creative.

Curiosity is driven by persistence and determination. Persistence drives you towards a certain goal with curiosity being the compass that leads you throughout the process. Questions steer curiosity in the correct course and can be a spark for creativity and inspiration. Furthermore, curiosity can be a tool for motivation, independence, confidence, storytelling, and courage. Most importantly, curiosity can be used for increasing human connection through sincerity, trust, and compassion. Curiosity is what drives us to call up a old friend to see how they are doing. Curiosity helps us dig deeply into the feelings of our partner and connect with them on another level. Curiosity leads us to making new relationships with a diverse array of people. We need to ask questions in our relationships that foster curiosity and project an aura of true caring. Don’t ask your kids “how was school today?” or your spouse “how was work today?”-the response will be … “good.” Get specific, take some effort in your questions, be curious about the details. Emphasize curiosity in your day to day because a curious person is a knowledgeable person. In respects to my curiosity, I want to practice using empowering questions that lead to open ended responses. No more, “How was your day?” but rather “What was the highlight of your day?” That was just one example but with practice I hope to give Grazer a run for his money.

The Coldest Journey on Earth

This weekend I started to work on my newly purchased home in Flint, MI. My house is by no means move in ready and is in such disrepair that it has no furnace. Ironically, we needed to do this on a day with a record setting -30 degree windchill. Suffice to say, I was freezing my butt crack off; my hands lost feeling in the first few minutes of work and my feet were so numb that I kept tripping and stumbling over myself. This short experience of cold discomfort is nothing compared to the true story I recently read, In The Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides. This book details the unbelievable journey a group of men took to try to reach the North Pole. The year was 1879 and the popular belief at the time was that the North Pole actually was an open ocean with marine life, navigable waters, and lost civilizations. The theory was that an ice ring surrounded this open body of water and that a boat just had to get through this barrier to access the polar ocean and hence quickly navigate to the other end of the world. Scientists believed that their was an open ocean on the North Pole and not ice because of the constant seasonal sunlight, deep water salinity, magnetic prowess, etc. With this theory in mind, manifest destiny in full force, and the male desire to conquer, Lieutenant Commander George Washington DeLong lead a crew of 30 men aboard the USS Jeannette to the North Pole.

DeLong, through extensive research, thought that going past Alaska through the Bering Straight would be the easiest way to get to the North Pole ocean. All was going well with the voyage until it got stuck in the ice just north of Siberia (click here for map). The crew of 30 were stuck in that ice pack for 21 months!!! The ice pack was drifting to the northwest towards the North Pole but to the men it was a boring, miserable, extremely cold, and very dark period of time. Imagine how these men felt stuck in a small ship with minimal light (the arctic gets no light during the winter months) and extremely cold temperatures for over 638 days. Eventually, the ship broke free from the ice only to be recaptured by an ice pack that punctured its hull and caused it to sink. Now the men were left with minimal supplies and no easy way out of their cold predicament. The crew began to journey south towards Siberia in the hopes that they would find a native tribe that could take them in. The arduousness of this journey was so much that each day the men said that it was the hardest day’s labor they had ever experienced. Moving supplies over ragged ice meant that the process was slow, very cold, and very dangerous. The trek finally culminated with a last ditch effort to cross an open expanse of water with the Siberian coast in site. Three small boats set out in a gale force storm: one boat sank killing 6 men, the other two were separated and landed at different points on the coast. In the end, the boat with DeLong sent out two survivors to find help, they did, but the men who held back all died of starvation. The other boat that landed found a native tribe and were able to survive the indomitable conditions of Siberia (they did get back to America as soon as they could).

I highly recommend picking up this book and would say it is one of the top 5 books I have ever read. My short post is the tip of the iceberg in terms of explaining this truly remarkable journey. These men experienced so much pain and discomfort it makes me feel ridiculous when I complain about trivial things. Even though the crew didn’t reach the North Pole they did discover several islands and scientific information that would help future parties eventually reach the North Pole by land. Our desire to learn and discovery is one of the most defining traits of our sentience. In honor of these men, I implore you to seek out what our planet has to offer and rummage through all the corners of its being. If you bought a house you would know all of its nooks and crannies because of the innate desire of exploration. This earth, in its past and present self, is everyone’s house to explore. Let’s go!

Beyond Intelligence

Are your kids smart or do they ride the short bus? I know that a lot of parents obsess over their children’s intelligence and get orgasms if they score in the 95th percentile on college entrance exams. If you have read some of my previous posts you may have a good understanding of my disdain for the modern-day school system. I am always curious of ways to better educate people so I picked up Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster. Now, I wouldn’t recommend this book because it is poorly written and drove me crazy the entire time I was reading it. The authors reminded me of the girls in my old high school who always wrote more then they needed just to appear smarter (they also carried 5000 pencils in a special bag and would never lend me one). So how can you raise a productive-intelligent child? Well let’s throw out the idea that intelligence can be accurately measured by any one test or standard? There are actually nine major intelligence categories and it is almost impossible to find someone who scores high in all of them: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, intrapersonal, interpersonal, naturalistic, and existential. IQ tests only really look at the linguistic and logical-mathematical dimensions of intelligence. So the next time that one friend starts bragging about his high IQ you should punch him in the nuts and tell him that you have a 180 point IQ in the dimensions of spatial and bodily-kinesthetics.

If you or your kids suck at tests then don’t fret because tests are designed to look an infinitesimal fraction of what you know through a medium that may not be your preferred method of expression. For example, Annie is very creative and loves to draw pictures of Pokémon. Well, Annie doesn’t like taking tests and fails to see the point…she always gets poor scores and she feels crappy about herself afterwards. Guess what? Tests are only good at identifying kids who are good at tests. That’s it! The sad fact of this is that good test takers are many times put in accelerated programs while the other different “IQ” folks are left behind. This tracts people into thinking they are smart, mediocre, or stupid. The main point I took from this book is that you shouldn’t say your kid are stupid or smart. You should push them academically through avenues that they are interested in. If Annie loves drawing be creative and incorporate that love into artistic lessons on geometry, geography, geology, genetics, etc. The key here is that children, adolescents, and adults should always pursue their curiosity. Curiosity is the spring well of learning and is really one of the key elements to what makes us human. This quote from Albert Einstein says it well, “I am neither especially clever nor especially gifted. I am only very, very curious.” Curiosity is what fuels my passion for reading non-fiction and traveling to new places. Don’t worry about test scores or intelligence; rather focus on learning for the sake of scratching the curiosity itch. Go out, encourage, love each other’s differences, stay positive, and appreciate that you are a uniquely-intelligent-wonderful human being.