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Off Beat – 24 May 2012

Man is made in God’s image. Man is curious. Hence, curiosity must be a godly attribute, and so we get to ‘curiosity is next to godliness’ and is probably hanging out next to the obsessive compulsive guy washing his hands for the fourteenth time in as many minutes.


“Don’t, whatever you do, open that door. Just don’t. Something totally bad will happen if you do.” And then what happens?
If this were a story, whoever those words were addressed to would go and open the door, and something bad would happen, making the story all the more interesting. In this case it was Bluebeard to his bride, and Bluebeard is quite a good story.
If it were my story, I would open the door anyway, but I would stand off to one side to make sure that if something happened I was out of the firing line. If nothing happened immediately, I would carefully peek around the side of it, but make sure that I could slam the door quickly if needed. Then, in the best scientific tradition, I would open it again.
We are told, ‘curiosity killed the cat’. It must have been a very young cat, quite dumb and it probably only had three legs. I have seen startled kittens turn into savage balls of fur, teeth and claws  when curiosity confronts them with a large dog. It’s usually the dog that backs off first, and if the cat decides to run, there is almost no way of catching it. Curiosity might kill one defective cat, but spread across the entire cat population, it is  statistically about as likely as dying by sticking your finger in a toaster to see what happens.
Why are we taught that curiosity kills cats?
In part, it is probably the sort of dumb thing that parents say to impressionable young kids, frightening them off curiosity forever. Don’t say that to your kids. They might stop questioning and start believing. Rather say something like, “That’s dangerous.” Or “Think before you do that.” And keep the first aid kit ready.
Let’s play this one theologically. Man is made in God’s image. Man is curious. Hence, curiosity must be a godly attribute, and so we get to ‘curiosity is next to godliness’ and is probably hanging out next to the obsessive compulsive guy washing his hands for the fourteenth time in as many minutes.
If you are a woman, please ignore the sexism there. It doesn’t flow well with the ‘his or her’ bits.
So if curiosity is next to godliness as well, what can we say about people who discourage it? I remember a couple of teachers who regularly used that very worn injunction, “Don’t think!” They all came across as evil, even if they hid their horns during school hours.
Some people just don’t appreciate curiosity whatsoever. They are the ones who need to control everything.
The first sort is the normal Joe, or slightly abnormal Joe, who is the sort of complete control freak who loses it when someone puts an extra teaspoon of sugar in his coffee. That sort of sugary laxity, in the mind of our abnormal Joe, can lead to things going completely awry, and might lead to things being done differently, whether thoughtlessly or out of curiosity to see just how badly our Joe will blow his stack.
The second sort is the sort of person who really doesn’t appreciate curiosity because if you open that door, you might just find the stack of former brides, or at very least, at least one skeleton rattling among the coat hangers. Aside from the assorted murderers, there are more than enough dictators out there who are willing to bomb, shoot and torture whole nations into oblivion for the simple question of asking, what if there were someone else in charge?
Neither abnormal Joe the control freak, nor Bluebeard, nor the friendly guy on all the posters, are people with whom you want to hang out.
Curiosity is a gift. What if, continuing in the theological vein, God did not give man wings because he wanted them to figure out how to fly, and maybe take vacations in interesting places? Remember that he also did not give man wheels. He didn’t give us washing machines or electric kettles either. On the other hand, he did give us brains.
The next time someone discourages you from being curious, your best bet is to reach for the Valium, call the police or ICC or begin the exorcism.
Curiosity is probably the most important attribute people have.

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