Curiosity

“Things That Make You Go Hmmm…” Bob Ryder

READINGS
Do not believe anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it. (Attributed to Siddhartha Gautama – the Buddha)

“You never get to the bottom of it.” Tom Teasley

REFLECTION
When have you been curious about something?  What’s been an experience that drew you in to learn something new?  Maybe you decided to take apart an engine to see how it works.  Maybe you decided to learn a new language.  Maybe you took an interest in getting to know your neighbors and found out something about their lives that intrigued you.  When was the last time your curiosity lead you out of your routine and your schedule, out of your comfort zone and moved you expand your horizons?  As I share my thoughts, I invite you to recall experiences like that, and we’ll take some time to share them in a few minutes.

Part of the inspiration for my thoughts this morning happened during a continuing education conference I attended in Chicago a few weeks ago.  The speaker was a well-known expert on the topic being presented, with decades of hands-on experience informing a thoughtful and rather novel perspective on a subject of interest to practically everyone in the field.  For our purposes, it doesn’t really matter what the topic was.  My point isn’t about the specifics of the presentation but rather about some of the reactions to the presentation I overheard among the audience between sessions.  There’s an adage among dog trainers that the only thing two of them can agree on is that the third is wrong.  What struck me as I milled about among my fellow audience members during breaks were the comments of several who dismissed the speaker’s premise out-of-hand. It was clear to me after listening for only a couple of seconds that these particular folks would have been dissatisfied hearing anything that didn’t confirm their preconceived notions on the subject.  They weren’t about to give the new information a chance – didn’t even consider it as far as I could tell.  The speaker wasn’t confirming what they already thought they knew, so her perspective wasn’t valid.  It left me wondering what they had in mind when they paid their registration, which was not a mere pittance.  If they only came willing to be told what they already knew, why bother attending?

For my own part, I’ll say that not everything the presenter shared seemed correct to me.  But a lot of it was new and intriguing to me, most of it seemed quite insightful, and practically all of it turns out to be useful regardless of whether her thesis turns out to be correct because it helped me to think more deeply about the subject.  So, I appreciate those aspects of the speaker’s presentation that I think about a little differently from her – precisely because they give me a chance to consider what I think I already know and either reinforce my own ideas or to make adjusts to my thinking in the comparison.  Now for all of that I’ll acknowledge it helped a lot that the presenter – while quite knowledgeable and confident – is also humble enough to welcome alternative ideas.  She entertained every question put to her graciously and thoughtfully, even the ones with obvious attitude behind them.  She is very much hoping that researchers will design experiments to test her ideas, and if need be, adjust or discard them if they turn out to be incorrect.  She’s open to thinking in different ways as evidence and reason require.  I find that inspiring, and it makes me think that one of the skillsets we desperately need to cultivate for the long-term survival of humanity and even the planet is a sense of curiosity, a willingness to explore new ways of understanding and interacting with the world, cultivating a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction in venturing beyond the limits of our current knowledge and perspective.

Another part of the inspiration for my thoughts today comes from a podcast interview I listened to recently featuring a musician named David Mortara.  (PlayCajon Podcast – episode 7; 8:00 -> ff).  Part of the interview recounts the way he got into playing and teaching music. The story focuses on an episode in which he came across a rather rustic cultural center in Peru as he was vacationing with his wife.  As they were exploring the center, there was a music lesson taking place with a teacher instructing a group of students in cajon rhythms.  The cajon is a drum that takes the form of smallish box that you play as you’re seated on top of it.  As they were making their way, David asked his wife to pause with him and listen to the lesson, whispering to her, “This is interesting.”  The instructor overheard his voice and paused the lesson to ask who had spoken, the teacher being blind.  Not yet able to speak Spanish, his wife translated for him, apologizing for the interruption and explaining that her husband found the lesson interesting and wanted to listen if that wouldn’t disturb the group.  The teacher responded by asking whether David was free the following day, and if so to obtain a cajon for himself and meet him back there at the same place for a personal lesson, which David gladly accepted. As it turns out, the teacher was a renowned musician named Eusebio Sirio Castillo Pititi.  He was one of the best percussionists in the world and possessed of a very generous soul with as much talent for teaching as for performing. In the months and years following that encounter, Mr. Mortara pursued the music and he himself has become one of the finest performers and teachers of Peruvian cajon music in the world, going so far as to adopt himself into the fabric of Peruvian culture.  Here’s a sample of a lesson being taught by Pititi…

 

Now listening to that small sample of one of the rhythms from Peruvian culture, you get a sense that it’s different from much more regular western rhythms we’re used to in which the measures are divided into very repetitive 3 or 4 beat patterns. One of the most interesting insights Mr. Mortara offered during this podcast interview was that one of the foundations of western percussion and rhythm is military marching.  That is, the beat and tempo was meant to facilitate soldiers marching in unison and covering long distances moving from one fort or battlefield to another.  That pattern still carries into music we listen to now in rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and other genres.  The foundation of Peruvian rhythm, by comparison, comes from music that was composed and played as a family and community bonding experience, and so there’s much more variation in the patterns from one part of a composition to the next, reflecting the difference between what one person plays compared to the person who played before and after.  I find that fascinating.  It helps me acknowledge that my experience is relative rather than being the only or most valid way to understand reality.  It makes me curious to know more about the experience of people from other cultures and other parts of the world.  And it helps me to experiences them more as neighbors and extended family rather than as aliens or strangers.

When have you been curious about something?  What’s been an experience that drew you in to learn something new?  Maybe you decided to take apart an engine to see how it works. Maybe you decided to learn a new language.  Maybe you took an interest in getting to know your neighbors and found out something about their lives that intrigued you.  When was the last time your curiosity lead you out of your routine and your schedule, out of your comfort zone and moved you expand your horizons?