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The Joy of Curiosity

I have a confession to make…. I’ve been meeting a man who is not my husband. We never plan these encounters – they happen organically due to our compatible dog walking schedules. For several months, we’ve been walking and talking – about dogs, the best Chinese food, the plausibility of life on other planets, and whatever else creeps in. Yesterday, Lyle told me that he will be walking about an hour later because he’s starting a ten-week French class at a community college. He’s going to Paris in the fall and wants to be able to “order a drink and find a bathroom.” He then listed the other continuing education programs for which he will register in the upcoming months. “I always want to be a student of something,” he said. Lyle is 86.

Lyle is endlessly curious. He will often stop the mountain bikers to ask about their fat tires or light frames. With a smirk, I ask if he’s thinking of taking up the sport. “Nope,” he answers, “just wondering.” That’s the thing about Lyle – he is always wondering. He doesn’t just want to know how things work; he wants to know how people work. His go-to comment (with zero snark or judgement) is “Now, explain to me how you came to that conclusion.” He asks because he truly wants to learn. One of Lyle’s favorite sayings, which I am still trying to muster without a tone of superiority, is “Just because you think something is true, doesn’t mean that it actually is.” It gives me great satisfaction to apply that statement to those with whom I disagree, but it’s quite unsettling to turn it on myself. What a humbling experience it is to realize that I often confuse my opinion with fact.

Lyle has what social scientists refer to as intellectual humility – that openness to having one’s opinion changed, modified, or strengthened by welcoming new information. Given sufficient evidence, Lyle is willing to alter his views. Never be afraid to be uncertain, he tells me. Interestingly, as liable as he is to change his mind, he is just as likely not to. He is confident in his ability to entertain alternate views while standing firm in his own.

What I have learned from Lyle is that we each only know what we know – the information we have gathered from our own experiences, interactions, and observations. As we tend to gravitate toward people who support our own positions, our understanding is usually only partially informed- which, I suppose, gives us all just a portion of the truth.

In 30 years, I will be Lyle’s age. I had assumed my learning days would be well behind me by then. Maybe not. Perhaps there will still be territory to explore and questions to ask. I hope so. I leave you with the phrase Lyle poses to me every time we meet… Go see what you can learn today.

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