Embracing Curiosity

An American adage states "curiosity killed the cat." If that is correct, why do we celebrate people like Galileo, Lincoln, and Gandhi, individuals who thought about longstanding problems in new ways or who defied conventional thinking to achieve great results?

To my knowledge, curiosity never actually killed a cat. The 1920 Eugene O'Neil play, "Diff'rent," did include the metaphor, "Curiosity killed a cat!" but more importantly was followed by, "Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies." If O'Neil had a cautionary message, it was not to limit or discourage curiosity but, rather, to warn against unknown consequences. Possibly, the more apt phrase should be, "Only ask if you are prepared for the answer."

Even if there are consequences to inquisitiveness, these seem not to have been a meaningful deterrent to mankind. From the beginning of recorded time, curiosity has underpinned our understanding of ourselves. History tells us that that curiosity is not likely to be "curbed" or "held in check" but, rather, the opposite is true; we are risk takers. When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, he provided an indelible image of curiosity bounded not even by gravity.

Adam and Eve, curious enough to bite an apple from the Tree of Knowledge, were banished from Eden. The banishment was a consequence that, according to the Old Testament, spawned civilization. At the cost of human life, early explorers conquered the...

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