On Memorial Day, 2015 I pedaled in to Council, Virginia, to spend my last night in the state, ready to enter Kentucky the next morning. My Trans-am map told me that the town had no restaurants or motels, and that I could camp in the city park, where I could find some food at the swimming pool complex. And with the temperature hovering around 99° along with ridiculous humidity, the pool was sounding pretty good.
The entire populace of the town must have been at the pool to enjoy the holiday. Although Olympic sized, there wasn’t much wiggle room left. I had started my journey twelve days back, already realizing that I was a “Stranger in a Strange Land,” but the Memorial Day crowd in Council really drove the point home. Everyone, other than toddlers, seemed to be smoking, and Confederate Flag tattoos were the rage.
It’s always nice to see multi-generational families enjoying time together… but in this case, it was kind of weird in that a lot of the grandparents appeared to be in their thirties and forties, and the great-grandparents younger than me. Like Kentucky, these folks lived in “Hollows,” pronounced, “Hollers,” which are mountain drainages/valleys that head back miles from the road to dead-ends. Families, for generations, lived in isolation, with very little outside influence, resulting in a perpetuation of familial mores from generations back.
Needless to say, I stood out and very few people approached me.
After filling up on junk food, my only choice, I headed over to a nearby covered picnic area and made camp for the night. Since it was covered, I set my air mattress up on a picnic table, with no need to set up a tent. That’s when a car pulled up and a couple got out and approached me. The wife took the lead, while the husband clearly had no desire to be there.
She looked at my bike and said, “What y’all doing?”
I explained my trip. I told them I was 12 days into what I thought was going to be an 80 day trip to Seattle… and the next thing out of her mouth was, “Well I could never do that.”
So I told her that one of the reasons that I was doing it was because that sometimes you have to try something just because there is a good chance you may fail. And then I told her some of the things I had learned along the way and that you don’t have to ride across the country or do anything physical to learn new things and perspectives, you just have to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
She replied, “Well I could never do that either.”
I asked her why she dropped by, and she said, “Just curious.”
It turned out that in every state I passed through, the first thing people said to me after they found out about my journey was that they couldn’t do what I was doing… but they were curious about it.
So as I pedaled west, I thought, how can we spur that curiosity on to incite them into action? I couldn’t help but think that it might help just to learn about the benefits of curiosity.
Curiosity is the the engine of intellectual achievement. As children, we were innately curious to discover our world, but as an adult, we have to choose to be curious. It may manifest because we desire to discover and learn, just like when we were kids, or, it may happen when our attention becomes focused on one of our knowledge gaps, which leads us to have feelings of deprivation which manifest as curiosity - it’s a mental/emotional state that impels you to move forward until we fill the gaps.
And curiosity contributes to your health and longevity.
A National Institutes On Aging (NIA) study by Gary Swan and Dorit Carmelli proved that curiosity adds to longevity and quality of life. Swan and Carmelli followed subjects for five years, taking into account their physical health risks, and discovered a strong correlation to curiosity and health - both physical and psychological.
As we age, having the skills to cope with new challenges and experiences has a significant affect on our overall health.The study participants who had a higher than average level of curiosity were more adept at coping skills, problem solving and the ability to make friends.
And physical variables aside, participants exhibiting stronger curiosity were likely to live 30% longer than those who didn’t… contrarily, having a lower than average curiosity level is thought to be a sign of abnormal aging of the central living system, a possible contributor to a shortened life span.
Had I known what I know now, I would have given the folks I met along my Trans-am the notion that becoming more curious, becoming a lifelong learner is not only good for you, it’s very doable. To learn curiosity, they could:
1. Start with a genuinely interesting question aimed at opening an info gap - prime the pump with intriguing, incomplete info.
2. Learn from others: Complete the task of filling in the gaps together where each has gaps to fill. Learn from and with others.
3. Use “Humble Inquiry” to build trust - there’s no such thing as dumb questions - questions unlock conversations.
4. Don’t depend on “The Google”. Store a lot of facts and knowledge in your head - depending on Google makes you stupid. Facts make creativity possible.
5. Read. Then read some more.
6. Become an expert in something and someone interested in everything. Know a couple of things in depth (more than most of your contemporaries). Leverage your knowledge by having the ability to think and expand upon it. Use the internet in ways that help you to gain depth and breadth.
Becoming more curious should be the foundation of how you show up as we age, and you can do something about it. Losing your curiosity is not a result of aging. Yes. children are innately curious to discover their world - but as adults, we just have to choose to be curious.