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Curiosity: The Foundation of Understanding

Hearing my granddaughter Zadie rehearse the musical scales with her violin recently, it reminded me that music, art, and other disciplines have some central and essential characteristics. As a Michael Jordan admirer, I remember a teammate saying of this great basketball player, “You think MJ is spectacular in games, you should watch him practice.”

I am a facilitator with the Zeidler Center for Public Discussion. We invite others into conversation about matters that are important to those participants. It is ‘their’ conversation. We play an ‘invisible’ role in enabling this process. As a facilitator, this role can be interpreted and practiced rather mechanically.

A facilitator may approach the task with a ‘flat’ consciousness. I might easily say about the process. “Questions are prepared and I read them to a group of six to eight people. They respond. I take notes. As long as they follow the process, I’ve done a good job.”

My take is that a facilitator is always in a growing process. I cannot simply show up and follow the agenda. Oh, I can and I have, but does that move us and therefore the participants into a new consciousness as people? I argue for seeing the journey of the facilitator as a ‘spiritual discipline', a life long deepening of consciousness practically lived out in daily life.

And the key to that journey is the tool called ‘curiosity.’ We say that 90% of the work of being a facilitator happens before meeting the group you facilitate. Developing ‘curiosity’ is a good portion of that preparation.

Curiosity is the baseline of any new and revealing conversation. Facilitators enable this process of curiosity, thereby inviting the participants to become more curious in their daily lives with partners, co-workers, family and neighbors. By offering this to others, facilitators claim that curiosity is central to the personal development of every life and in their role as facilitator. I choose to be a facilitator as a way to grow into being more clear about my role as a human being.

"Psychiatrist Alfred Margulies once proposed that 'wonder' is what it really takes to understand another human being. Wonder 'promotes a searching attitude of simultaneously knowing and not knowing.’ It blends astonishment with curiosity, a combination that ends up fostering a deep appreciation of the other. Wonder and curiosity keep us from behaving as if we have other people figured out.”” (Peter Marty)

In a future article, I will suggest some ways that we already wonder, and how to blend astonishment with curiosity.

How does one practice the kind of curiosity that is hidden in the role of a facilitator? On a daily basis what are the opportunities for practicing curiosity? There are a million and one ways that can be done. By pursuing curiosity, facilitators will not be robots tied to a pre-determined method. Rather a facilitator committed to curiosity will infused the process with creativity, energy, and understanding. The best preparation to facilitate a civil discussion is to approach every life situation as a conversation. “You should watch him practice.”

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