Don’t Ever Stop Being Curious

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine who’s on the other end of this computer keyboard. During the time I’ve been writing for the Delaware Wave (18 years this June, to be exact) it’s always gratifying to receive the numerous emails and calls from you, the readers. Many of you start with something like, “You don’t have to call me back, but….” I wish I could return all those calls and emails just to say “Thanks” for taking the time to comment on the latest topic.

Not all the comments are positive, either. And that’s a good thing. As a psychotherapist, my aim is to challenge people to think — whether it’s in the quiet of my office or in the public forum of this newspaper. There’s no rule that says everybody has to agree with me. (I wouldn’t be doing my job if they did.) In fact, many of your reactions, both negative and positive, often end up inspiring new topics for this page. So, as the late Dean Martin used to say, “Keep those cards and letters coming in!”

The subjects that generate the most questions are those that deal with issues such as relationships, dysfunctional behavior, family interactions and the like. People are always curious to know more about these things. Curiosity is an important aspect of life. It is through the desire to learn something that life promotes itself and gathers resources more effectively. No curiosity, no life. Period.

Though curiosity began as a basic tool for everyday survival, many of the comforts we enjoy today, not to mention the conditions under which we live, are a direct result of the inquisitive nature of entrepreneurs and innovators like Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, Sir Francis Drake, Benjamin Franklin, John D. Rockefeller, Steve Wynn, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford … the list goes on and on.

Many species exhibit curiosity, primarily driven by the need to eat and to avoid being eaten. Our uniquely human curiosity gives rise to the qualities of fantasy and imagination, where abstract thinking can allow imagination to “leak” into the realm of reality. Our perception of what’s around us can be altered by our thoughts and fantasies. A prime example is the comment, “He only hears what he wants to hear.” Taken to its ultimate conclusion, this conflict between reality and feelings can lead to psychosis, where a person loses the ability to distinguish between what is imagined and what is real.

Our imagination can bring us enjoyment and pleasure. But the lack of outside limitations can also cause pain and unhappiness. People whose curiosity and imaginations are particularly vivid can suffer from imagined threats and dangers. Psychosomatic illnesses can be manifestations of imaginary perils.

So the possibilities arising from the wonders of our imagining minds are virtually limitless. They can range from happy daydreams about things that will probably never happen, all the way to full-blown psychotic disorders. They can also inspire inventions, business ideas and discoveries to advance the human condition. Curiosity, imagination and fantasy, tempered with reality and objectivity, can be powerful tools for making our time on earth as productive and enjoyable as it can be.

For humans, curiosity is a constant search for answers. In spite of the psychological pitfalls that may lurk in the shadowy outskirts of reality, the positive benefits of applying our imaginations to our everyday lives far outweigh the negatives.

So I encourage you to keep calling and emailing if something you read here arouses your curiosity. Not only is it a healthy exercise in thinking, but it also helps me come up with new and (hopefully) interesting column topics in my weekly endeavor to prove, once and for all, that Life is, indeed, a Beach.