In our current polarized political and social climate, many have observed that some of us stay in a little bubble, insulated from hearing others. This is a problem. Part of the solution to the little bubbles we live in is asking questions. If we think that it is unhealthy for everyone to live insulated from one another, then questions are a way that we can move beyond ourselves, develop empathy, and foster understanding. In my observation, the problem with that solution is that we have forgotten how to ask questions to achieve this end. Specifically, we are a people who inquire over a people who are curious.
Inquiring is a word that comes from an idea of "seeking." Seeking is something that we do when we know what we are looking for. When I lose my keys, I seek them out. I know what they look like and so when I find them I know it right away. Bono and the band U2 know what they are seeking in the song says, "I still haven't found what I'm lookin' for."
When the spiritual journey is framed as a quest seeking a known variable, then we will ask questions like an inquirer. When we ask questions of another in the spirit of inquiring, then we are are not checking our judgment at the door. Sometimes our questions, under the guise of understanding, are in fact just a way to gain knowledge to build an effective counter-argument. Inquiring is the way of asking questions that does not require us to leave our own biases and judgments out of the question. Journalists are great at inquiring because they are looking for something (usually a story), but the best journalists are more curious. Journalists often know ahead of time how they want an interview to go, so they use particular inquiries to direct the conversation to their desired destination.
Curiosity is a word that comes from the Latin word "care." When we are curious we are asking questions with a spirit of care toward the other. It is a spirit that is not judgmental and thus we are willing and able to ask questions without "seeking" a predetermined outcome or goal. The curious person is a person who is interested in you and your story just for the sake of who you are – not to get anything from it. It is why curious people are interesting to be around because they are caring to all that they meet.
Using a simple Ngram search, we can see the number of uses of the word inquiry is more prevalent than the word curiosity and that both are near all time lows in usage.
Chart Courtesy of Jason Valendy
The more we are in the spirit of inquiry and less in the spirit of curiosity the more we may remain in our filter bubbles of confirmation bias. Would asking questions without judgment break us out of our bubble? I wonder...
The Rev. Jason Valendy, along with his wife the Rev. Estee Valendy, serves as co-pastor of Saginaw United Methodist Church in Saginaw, Texas. He blogs at JasonValendy.net, from which this post is republished with the author's permission.