Let’s face it. Parts of our society are starting to resemble a dumpster fire.
Neighbors scream at each other at town halls. Parents wage war at public school hearings. University students verbally assault guest speakers who dare to express contrary viewpoints. City streets erupt with identity-based violence. Members of Congress behave like spoiled adolescents.
Lives and relationships are being fractured by tensions over race, religion, age, gender identity, human rights, economic status, and other issues. Few people seem interested in listening. Asking honest questions, then honestly considering the responses, is a vanishing art.
Scott Shigeoka wants to help people course correct in the way they deal with views and values contrary to their own. The key, he says, is curiosity. An internationally recognized expert in curiosity, Shigeoka is known for translating research into strategies that promote positive well-being and connected relationships. He’s done research at Cal Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and teaches at the University of Texas at Austin. His new book is SEEK: How Curiosity Can Transform Your Life and Change the World.
Based on his research, Shigeoka offers an approach for using curiosity to bridge social and political divides. He calls it the DIVE Model—Detach, Intend, Value, Embrace—for building the courage to be transformed by the people, places, and experiences we encounter:
- Detatch—Let go of your ABCs (Assumptions, Biases, Certainty)
- Intend—Prepare your mindset and setting
- Value—See the dignity of every person, including yourself
- Embrace—Welcome the hard times in your life
Of course, life will throw us curveballs. Society will grapple with crisis after crisis. While there are many things we can’t control, we can harness our power of deep curiosity to navigate life more effectively.
Shigeoka says curiosity, especially deep curiosity, is actually a superpower. He says it can unlock connection, healing, and personal growth. It can also provide an antidote to fear and anxiety.
Our world is in what Shigeoka calls an “era of incuriosity.”
“While we were once able to debate and discuss hot-button issues with a sense of civility and agreed-upon facts,” he says, “our country has exploded into culture wars, canceling people and turning away from even those we love because of what seems like irreconcilable differences.”
Shigeoka says curiosity is not just an intellectual activity that helps us attain information for a round of Trivia Pursuit. It’s also a heart-centered practice that’s a force for connection and transformation.
Did you know that curiosity can be contagious? If you’re interacting with someone who isn’t expressing curiosity in you or your viewpoints, meet them with your own curiosity. “That might seem counterintuitive at first,” Shigeoka says, “but giving someone the gift of curiosity can open their stance up from a more self-centered or defensive one.”
Shigeoka says the first step to access curiosity is to slow down. Research shows that behaviors like taking deep breaths can reduce anxiety, increase relaxation, and help you become more capable in the moment.
You can also slow down during the conversation itself. Shigeoka says that even in a conflict you can soften the urge to jump right in with a response. How? By taking the time to use three simple words to learn more about the other person’s perspective: “Tell me more.” This not only enables you to gain a more nuanced understanding of the other person’s view, it also helps you make the other person feel seen and heard.