Curiosity IS the breeding ground for Empathy
I don’t like that man, I must get to know him better — Abraham Lincoln
One of the things that continues to amaze me is the genuine uniqueness of people. If I reflect on the people I have seen today during my early morning walk with my partner, on this slightly blustery day and I wondered:
The older lady with the short hair and the fluffy golden dog looked incredibly happy. Is she really happy? The man who stared for what seemed like a few seconds too long as he drove past in his older Mitsubishi wagon seemed confused, I wonder what he was thinking? The children throwing the basketball at a wall seemed bored, but maybe it was contentment in play? The couple organising their garage, seemed like they were preparing for a sale — I guess it is time for a mid-winter clean out.
These people all have public stories, these people all have hidden stories, these people even have stories that they refuse to tell themselves.
It is the same for those people we interact with at work or socially. If you want to create connection. No, more than that, you want to create bonds with those people, you need to understand them.
So, how do you do it? How do you get to know someone better? How can you empathise?
You have to meet them where they are.
The three powerful attributes of connection
People who are genuinely curious are great connectors. People who are humble, understand that they do not know everything. That everyone has something to teach them, which allows them to be curious more often.
For this reason, curiosity and humility are tightly coupled. However, the two of them are linked to a third, infinitely valuable attribute — Empathy. John Gorman said it well in one of his very popular Medium articles, I encourage you to read it.
Humility is how you value yourself. Curiosity is how you value others. Empathy is how you value the bonds between yourself and others .John Gorman( The 3 Keys to Becoming Irresistible)
This small narrative describes the coupling of three powerful attributes. They all circle on the connections you have with yourself and others. But how do you start, how do you become more curious?
Sometimes people are curious naturally, sometimes they are curious because they want to establish their place, sometimes they are curious because they have good questions. Sometimes, they are a blend of all three. I am.
If I am showing humility it is a natural curiosity of the unknown, if I am feeling insecure it is seeking hierarchy and status (I don’t like this), and if I am acting like a connector or mentor, it will be through the power of good questions.
However, if curiosity from a place of humility is the foundation for empathy, how do you establish it?
Learning is fun for some people, but being presented with something new is daunting for others. The difference is normally how curious they are, and how much they believe in their capacity to learn. It is a question of attitude against a limiting belief.
Humans, are by design curious creatures. We have chosen to pursue information about the unknown from our earliest years. Many things we learnt about because we deemed them necessary, others because they were important to us, and many more because they were important to someone else. In each situation, when faced with new information, we have learnt something.
Albert Einstein is famous for the quote;
If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend the first fifty-five minutes making sure I was answering the right question — Albert Einstein
In fact, many people discuss the importance of asking why 5 times to really understand something. Following this investigation technique can feel tedious, but often gets to the crux of the problem.
The curious find very little boring, they are intrigued by the mysteries of life, they learn with enthusiasm and excitement. A new challenge is not deemed intimidating, but rather an opportunity for growth. For the essence of curiosity, Harry Lorayne once stated;
Curiosity killed the cat, but where human beings are concerned, the only thing a healthy curiosity can kill is ignorance — Harry Lorayne
I have found that the right questions and the right attitude will give you an opportunity to empathise with a person, or a problem, or an organisation. The requirement is just curiosity.
A farmer had some puppies he needed to sell. He painted a sign advertising the 4 pups and set about nailing it to a post on the edge of his yard. As he was driving the last nail into the post, he felt a tug on his overalls. He looked down into the eyes of a little boy.
“Mister,” he said, “I want to buy one of the puppies.”
“Well,” said the farmer, as he rubbed the sweat off the back of his neck, “These puppies come from fine parents and cost a good deal of money.”
The boy dropped his head for a moment. Then reaching deep into his pocket, he pulled out a handful of change and held it up to the farmer. “I’ve got thirty-nine cents. Is that enough to take a look?”
“Sure,” said the farmer. And with that he let out a whistle. “Here, Dolly!” he called.
Out from the doghouse and down the ramp ran Dolly followed by four little balls of fur. The little boy pressed his face against the chain link fence. His eyes danced with delight. As the dogs made their way to the fence, the little boy noticed something else stirring just inside the dog house. Slowly another little ball appeared, this one noticeably smaller. Down the ramp it slid. Then in a somewhat awkward manner, the littlest pup began hobbling toward the others, doing its best to catch up…
“I want that one,” the little boy said, pointing to the runt. The farmer knelt down at the boy’s side and said, “Son, you don’t want that puppy. He will never be able to run and play with you like these other dogs would.”
With that the little boy stepped back from the fence, reached down, and began rolling up one leg of his trousers. In doing so, he revealed a steel brace running down both sides of his leg attaching itself to a specially made shoe. Looking back up at the farmer, he said, “You see sir, I don’t run too well myself, and he will need someone who understands.”
With tears in his eyes, the farmer reached down and picked up the little pup.
So, seek to understand, seek to know more tomorrow than you did today. Seek it through curiosity. Every single person you meet has something to teach you. The information you need may be just a few moments of research away.
Remember the power of good questions, remember the power of knowledge breadth, remember the power of connection. Empathy is the path to connection and understanding. Remember to stay curious.
Stay safe and keep smiling,
Writer of things, learning about leadership, personal development and growth. Originally published at leonpurton.com.