Last night, I went to a corporate event at the Millyard Museum in Manchester. The museum provided a fascinating look at the history of the textile industry here in the mid 1800s. Well, at least I found it fascinating.
While I was browsing a big black & white photographic mural of the Amoskeag Falls, after dinner and socializing, I caught the glance of a woman standing nearby. I smiled and wondered aloud where we were in relation to the falls, which had powered the amazing “walled city” of Manchester, created by the massive collection of mills that lined both sides of the Merrimack here.
The woman smiled politely back, glanced at the mural and said, “I don’t know, and I don’t really care.”
I immediately felt small and naive, somewhat stupid and rather silly. My initial reaction to what was clearly not meant to be a put down, but just a statement of unfortunate fact on the woman’s behalf, was not an unfamiliar one to me. It’s not the first time I’ve let my wonder slip in public. Now in my half century mark, the feeling occurs less often and is happily fleeting. I think it’s a natural response to wearing your heart on your sleeve and hearing the equivalent of “Hold still, you’ve got some schmutz there.”
My schmutz is my unabashed, or perhaps more accurately – unbashable — curiosity about new places and things and ideas. I simply like to see what’s around the corner. I think that’s what makes life worth living. And so I got back on my adult feet quickly, and replied, “I think it’s interesting,” and moved on to the next mural.
As people filed out after the dinner, I headed up, to check out an interesting spiral staircase and explore what I could of the repurposed millhouse that housed the museum and a science center below it, both of which were now closed. The building was well worth the exploration.
Now I can mix and nosh with the best of ‘em, and I like my glass of wine and plate of cheese as much as the next convention goer. I’ve got opinions about strategic plans and business roles, and take copious notes during meetings.
But I can’t go past a fantastic building, or a clearly historical site, or a piece of art or scenery I’ve never seen before, or an interesting person with a story to tell, without wanting to know more.
Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. The actual phrase in Greek is “ho de anexetastos bios ou biôtos anthrôpôiI,”( Apology, 38a) and is often taken to refer to the value of self-reflection and personal understanding. My own preferred version of the words is, “ Life without enquiry is not worth living …” Because I find the world fascinating and interesting, the world is, in fact, fascinating and interesting.
I believe in the value of a Curiosity Driven Life. My curiosity has never failed to reward me, and I’m gratified to see that my children are endlessly curious, too – and equally dumbfounded as I am when others aren’t.
Not that everyone should be swooning in fawning fascination at every bend in the road, of course (although some might say that sounds very much like me!). But the affected boredom and complete lack of interest in the curiously disinterested seems rather sad, not to mention counterproductive. Without curiosity, there’s little impetus to discover or explore. The commensurate affects of an unexamined life can be culturally far-reaching – affecting political involvement, scientific, literary, artistic, economic and social achievement and development.
A people who lack curiosity also lack the commensurate drive and initiative needed to create new things, establish new ways of thinking or doing, or nurture the fresh perspectives vital to the social, economic and personal development we need to be a healthy and productive society.
Now clearly the uninterested woman standing by the museum mural hadn’t intended her comment to become a loaded statement on social and intellectual trends. But as I ranged down silent halls, running my hands along 150 year old brick walls, listening to my footfalls echoing in a stairwell trod by textile workers in an era long gone, and marveling at the play of light from the Manchester skyline reflected in the tall windows above me, I felt only gratitude that curiosity had led me on such a lovely and instructive private tour. I know I’ll always be a little “out there” with my penchant for pondering and wandering, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My life of enquiry is one that is deeply and wonderfully worth living!