As I packed up from one of my curiosity workshops this summer, a participant named Don came up to me. He was thrilled about what he’d learned, but was confused about one thing. “You asked us to avoid judging each other so we could stay curious,” he told me. “But my judgments are what help me stay curious.”
When he explained what he meant, it made total sense. He’s sitting there during the exercise, listening to his partner lay out her opinion on gun regulations. A judgment pops into his mind. She must hate the Second Amendment. But then he notices the judgment — before it can poison his conversation — and turns it into a question. Does she hate the Second Amendment? What would she say about it if I found a good way to ask? Listening to his judgments, instead of pushing them away, kept Don both curious and honest. It was a good lesson. Judgments about other people will pop into all of our minds. If we want to check who we imagine people to be with the reality, they’ll hint at the questions that could help. If there’s one place where no one wants judgment to make a mess of things, it’s the family Thanksgiving dinner table. There you all are, bonded by blood and burdened by expectation. And there’s no bigger source of judgment than expectation! How can my mom believe this? Why isn’t my brother more like that? So can our judgments about our family help us stay curious about them? Sure… but be gentle. As a friend reminded me this week, the people who know each other best are the ones who can hurt each other most. Ask “How can my mom believe this?” in a way that helps you get to know your mom. Ask “What is my brother like, if not like this way I expect?” in a way that helps you get to know your brother. Would you expect them to work on getting to know you? You could, and invite one more judgment to pop into your mind. Or maybe you look around and see that the people are gathered, the food is delicious, and you’re already quite full.