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Albert Einstein once said, “I have no special talents. I have only been passionately curious.” Despite the obvious understatement, being passionately curious clearly does something for us as humans by paving a strong path to learning, which often leads to success. It’s akin to necessity being the mother of invention. If you have an insatiable desire to know something, you’ll eventually find a way to learn it. So if you wish to learn anything, start by learning to be curious.
So how does one learn to be curious? One of the surest paths to a strong sense of curiosity is to experience the thrill and joy of discovery. Like a drug whose effect the addict craves, discovering something you’ve tried in earnest to find (as opposed to being given the answer with no effort) creates a joy and elation like nothing else. Anyone who’s known that thrill will definitely want to experience it again and again. So giving yourself, or your child, that joy of discovery is a gift that continues to reward its recipient for years to come.
Finding the dry firewood
The best example of this I’ve come across was from a Boy Scout camping trip to Ferne Clyffe State Park in Southern Illinois. Rick was a sixteen-year-old high school student in Carbondale, Illinois, and a senior patrol leader in the scouts. That meant on a campout he was in charge of a small group of scouts four or five years younger than him. It had just started to rain as they left home for the hour-long drive to Ferne Clyffe. By the time they arrived, everything was soaked. They set up their tents in the rain, and then turned their attention to dinner. The stew was already made but needed to be heated on a fire. But how can you make a fire when all the firewood is wet? You can’t, of course. So that’s when Rick posed this question to his troop of eleven- and twelve-year-olds. “Where is the dry wood?” And with that, off they went in search of this elusive dry wood in a soaking wet forest.
For fifteen or twenty minutes they tried, but no amount of climbing or digging produced anything other than a slightly less wet piece of unburnable wood. So Rick asked, “Well then, where is it not?” That started a serious debate among the boys. It became a the puzzle that stood between them and dinner. After another dozen minutes without an answer, Rick picked up a thick branch from the ground and asked an even more leading question: “Where on this log is the wood not dry?”
“On the outside, of course,” came a chorus of answers almost in unison. Then, almost as quickly, came the realization and a set of screams,
The dry wood is on the inside!
Rick was admittedly proud of himself, listening to the shrieking prepubescent voices of half a dozen boys and their elation of finding the dry wood that had been right at their feet the whole time. They quickly figured out safe and effective ways to shave and chisel off the wet bark on the outside to get to the dry wood for their fire.
In less than an hour, while enjoying warm stew and a roaring fire, each boy took turns taking credit for the amazing discovery of dry wood in a wet forest. Each one was more certain than the last that he was the first to yell out the correct answer.
Rick vividly remembers hoping none of them would realize how blatant his efforts were to lead them to the answer. They worked hard for this victory and he wanted them to enjoy it. He also remembers being conscious of the fact that at the previous year’s camping event, he probably wouldn’t have had the patience to let them find the dry wood themselves, or the maturity to stand by silently as they took credit so quickly for it. In helping his troop grow into young men, he was actually taking his own step into manhood.
If you want to instill in someone a strong sense of curiosity, find a way to give them the gift of discovery, like Rick did for these Boy Scouts. You may find it helps both of you grow.
As with all the stories in these posts, I encourage you to share this with your kids, and then have a discussion about it. Here are some questions to get you started. . .
- How would the story have gone if Rick had just told the scouts where to find dry wood in the first place?
- What kinds of things are you the most curious about, and have a passion to learn?
- What’s the last thing you remember being proud and excited to discover? (Wasn’t that fun?)
- What would you like to discover next?
- What’s an example of a question you’d want someone to tell you the answer to without letting you try to discover the answer for yourself?
[You can find this and over 100 other character-building stories in my book, Parenting with a Story.]
Paul Smith is a one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a Story and Parenting with a Story.
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