17th November 2021
HOM: Questioning and posing problems
‘I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.’
The characteristic of curiosity is perhaps an unusual choice to name as a virtue, yet without having curiosity it is doubtful whether we or indeed humanity, would survive or progress.
Alain de Botton writes that ‘One of the distinguishing characteristics between humans and other forms of life is our inclination, and ability to FIND problems to solve. Effective problem solvers know how to ask questions to fill in the gaps between what they know and what they don’t know.’
In many ways this links to an earlier virtue that we explored, that of self-awareness, because when we are self-aware we will know what we know and don’t know and therefore the right sort of questions we need to ask and seek answers to.
Curiosity is what makes the prisoner in Plato’s famous cave analogy, shake off his chains and make his way from the shadowland of the cave, into the real world outside where the truth of things is revealed.
Plato as a student of Socrates, knew the virtue of questioning as a way to knowledge and learning. And in the cave analogy he illustrated how without healthy curiosity we would not gain full knowledge, staying instead enslaved to our desires and the stories told us by our puppet masters, never thinking for ourselves.
Without curiosity it is doubtful that many of us would get off the starting block to greater learning and progress. That’s why education more than anything must be about inspiring and nurturing curiosity in our young people. The rest will take care of itself and the journey of lifelong learning will begin.
So I agree with Eleanor Roosevelt that we should ask that our children are endowed with the gift of curiosity which also means both encouraging and welcoming the questions they ask, even when we may find them personally challenging, for we too need to remain curious in order to continue our learning and growing.