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Deliberate Curiosity

Ladies and gentlemen; who here tonight has a birthday in 2007? Hands up. Okay so it looks like that’s most of us. And that means I’m not alone because I just celebrated mine back in January and it reminded me, as it usually does, that I’m slowly getting older.

Fact is; we’re all getting older all the time – all of us here this evening. And regardless how old we all are respectively, the one thing we all have in common is that TODAY is the oldest we’ve ever been. In other words, the oldest we’ve ever been in our whole lives – all of us – the oldest we’ve ever been is right here, right now; this very second. And in that sense, we’re all in exactly the same situation, breaking new ground for ourselves as we go along. Right NOW is new territory for all of us.

But perhaps there’s a way to turn back the clock. Perhaps there’s a way to be young again. After all, there are no realities in this world; there are only perceptions. So if we can perceive our lives differently, maybe the journey forward won’t be quite so intimidating. Maybe the uncharted future can be an exciting invitation back to our youthful exuberance and curiosity. And that’s what I’d like to discuss this evening.

I look back on my life, as we all do I’m sure, and there are certain things that stick out – like little movie clippings in my mind. Certain things that took place; things I did, things I saw and things people told me along the way. And there’s one thing I remember well; something I was told by my Uncle Phil at a young age – perhaps just 13 or 14 years old. Uncle Phil was definitely the success story on my father’s side of the family and I remember his advice because it struck me at the time as being so novel yet so obvious at the same time … and also because he embarrassed me in front of my older brother after I beat him fair and square in a game of ping-pong.

It was totally unfair! Here I was, declaring undeniable superiority over my older brother and he walks over and utters the words “everyone in the world is better at something than you are.” What? He’s saying this to me!! I WON the game! He should be saying it to my brother! Well, I was a little annoyed at the whole thing and didn’t see his point until much later. But the phrase stuck in my head and I started thinking about it. I mean, it benefits me too. If everyone in the world is better than me at something, then I must be better at something than everybody! But I don’t think that’s what he was getting at.

Uncle Phil wanted me to understand that the purpose of life involves more than just celebrating victories. It’s about learning and expanding our perspective by seeing not just our own strengths but the strengths of others. And he’s got a point. We rarely learn in victory. We just celebrate and enjoy it. Truth is; we learn much more when we’re still striving to get better. In fact, I would argue it’s impossible to maximize your own potential if you don’t first appreciate the endless knowledge you will never call your own. Seeing the strengths of others reminds us of how much there is left to learn. It humbles us and ensures we remain a work-in-progress, learning and expanding our minds.

Problem is; as we grow older, we become more and more “set in our ways.” It’s natural. It happens to all of us. We become more and more focused on our own lives and less and less sympathetic to the views of others. By contrast, when we’re children, we’re all naturally curious. We’re like little sponges, wanting to learn from everything around us. “Why” is a favorite word when we’re 2 or 3 years old. We want to know everyone else’s opinion. We want access to everyone else’s knowledge. But curiosity fades away as we take ownership of our own lives and that’s why this simple advice I received more than 20 years ago still resonates so strongly in my mind.

I believe it’s this learning process that makes us feel ‘young’. We feel like we’re rejuvenating our spirit. It’s exhilarating to learn. It’s exciting to think what life might be like NOW that we’ve acquired new information, new expertise, new knowledge. Yet, our increasing reluctance to learn new things as we grow older makes us feel older still. Every day that goes by, the advice I was given becomes more relevant and more important. We need to train ourselves to resist the inward momentum of aging and challenge ourselves to remain curious, searching for the brilliance in others and allowing ourselves to benefit from their unique perspective; their unique identity.

And so, the exercise I propose as you listen to this speech and as you go about your lives is to “stay curious”. When you meet someone new, ask yourself what THEY might have that you don’t. Ask yourself what strengths they’ve built THEIR life around. Don’t judge or compete. Just stay curious and be open to their vantage point; a parallel world full of experiences and memories completely different than your own; a world full of insights and conclusions you’ve probably never considered.

Most of us, when we’re in a conversation, spend the time thinking about what we’re going to say next RATHER than listening to what the other person is trying to communicate. Most of us, when we’re in a confrontation, focus all our attention justifying our own arguments RATHER than considering the other point of view. We do this because we’re in a constant state of self-defense, shielding our proprietary thought process from outside attack; eliminating the need to question ourselves. But we’ve got it all wrong. It doesn’t take strength to protect your point of view. It takes strength to consider someone else’s. It doesn’t take courage to blindly declare that you’re right. It takes courage to consider the possibility that you’re wrong.

Stay curious. Listen. Learn. Expand. Grow. Believe me; your consideration of someone else’s perspective is the biggest compliment you can give them, regardless how much you might benefit as a result. People are happy to share their knowledge and their insights with an interested and appreciative audience. Your deliberate curiosity benefits everybody and hurts no one.

Everyone in the world is better at something than you are.
Be young again. Stay curious. (1035 words)