Universal curiosity: the sometimes missing ingredient journalists need to be happy

When I was four years old I educated my babysitter on the birds and the bees. Why? Because I asked my parents question after question about how my little brother came into the world until they finally told me the truth.

Then, of course, I was obliged to share this knowledge with anyone who would listen. My babysitter was a captive audience, so I happily shared my wealth of knowledge with the poor young lady. Needless to say, my parents received a call from her parents the next day.

I propose that this thing we learned in childhood, this universal curiosity, is the foundation for good journalism and … that one must have this to be a happy journalist long term.

I am not sure how, but by some strange twist of grace I have kept this curiosity. I think that most good journalists have either kept, or relearned this insatiable desire to know more, this wonder and fascination with the world around us.

As children, especially young children, we are basically born into a world of wonder and awe. Everything is new for us, and as long as we are not consumed with fear regarding the unknown, we seek it out. We want to understand the world around us. We need to develop a sense of who and what we are within the social, physical and biological constructs we have entered. We are innate explorers.

ImageAnother time when I was young my mother asked me to clean the bathroom. The bathroom was a strange place for me, a second or third grader at the time, so I got out my flashlight and a sponge, put on a toy construction worker’s helmet and went to explore behind the toilet and delve into the cabinets. I think my mom just wanted me to wipe down the vanity top – but what fun is that? I distinctly remember finding the bolt covers behind the toilet, taking them off, and finding a truly grotesque black amalgam of who knows what beneath. I had found something that really needed to be cleaned! I discovered something unknown – that maybe no one before had ever seen – for the very first time.

Who knew there were bolts beneath those caps? Why do toilets need bolts? Where does the poo and pee go? What is under the toilet? Does it connect to the ocean? Are there alligators or sharks down there? Good thing they are big and the hole in the toilet is small! Why aren’t there minnows in the water then? The child in me could go on…

This type of curiosity came naturally to me, and by grace I didn’t let traditional schooling test it out of me. So why does this matter? I’ll say it again; to be a good journalist one must recapture this insatiable, universal curiosity.

G.K. Chesterton might call it wonder at creation. Darwin might call it scientific observation. Jesus might call it love. Yes, Jesus might call it love.

Jesus evidenced this insatiable curiosity from when he was a child who stayed in the temple to question the priests. Later in life we see how he noticed the unnoticed. He noticed Zacchaeus in the tree. He noticed the woman who touched the hem of his garment. He noticed the woman at the well. He noticed them, and then asked them questions, and genuinely was interested – insatiably curious about their responses.

I propose that journalists have a lot to learn from children and from the one who said to enter the kingdom of heaven “you must become like little children.”

The journalist who recaptures this universal insatiable curiosity, this wonder at creation, this awe at the beauty and complexity of humanity, they will count it joy to participate in their craft. Journalists will inherit the riches that so many are willing to share if they simply slow down and tap into their well of insatiable curiosity. The world will transform from the hurried rush to the “next thing” to a world filled limitless stories and endless wonder.

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