Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
I can recall, apparently with terrific inaccuracy, hearing a kindergarten story about an incorrigible feline who poked his nose into someone else’s business and paid the ultimate price for his efforts. My memory is inaccurate because I have found that, to my surprise, there is no historical record of any story being attached to the phrase: “Curiosity killed the cat.” Quite the opposite. According to “The Internet,” the phrase seems to have arisen independently of a fable and been proffered by well-meaning adults to naïve children for several hundred years.
Whether or not the phrase was credentialed by Aesop or Joseph Campbell doesn’t matter in the least. It is packed with meta-messages, such as: keep your head down and keep on keeping on. Don’t rock the boat. Keep yourself to yourself. Information gained by prying onto other’s affairs sometimes can carry a very steep price.
At face value, it sounds like pretty good advice. Let’s just hope we didn’t repeat it too often to impressionable young minds and hearts, or to ourselves.
It’s not that being wary of dangers is a bad teaching per se, but when we ponder the drawbacks of the proverb’s dreaded attribute, how often do we remind ourselves, or our kids, or one another – that curiosity is one of the foundational tools of a healthy society, inspiration and excellent communication? Yes, sure, we know that, but… do we really know it?
I have learned, as a clinical chaplain, that curiosity is a very important element of emotional healing. I’m not talking about frantic web searches or symptoms and disease-related concerns. No, I am talking about communication far more complex than the Internet – our inner dialogue, and our communications with others. For example, when we are experiencing a strong emotion, curiosity about what triggered us can help us retain our view of the situation so we won’t be subject to it again. That is, if we are disappointed, we can gut react – or choose to be curious about what caused the problem, and work together to fix it. It is not easy in the heat of the moment, but the rewards are rich.
True and honest curiosity inspired by kindness helps to open honest communication and inspired problem-solving. This behavior, in turn, creates a sense of healing for all involved and actually retrains our brains and emotional reactions. Here, then, curiosity does not carry a negative price; it has the power to generates an ultimate reward – close and trusting relationships in which each individual flourishes.