On Curiosity

Most adults are envious of how easily children learn languages.

“I’m too old to learn a second language. I wish I could learn like those kids”, they say.

Why is that?

A common response is: “…a child doesn’t have all of the responsibilities I have as an adult.”

I’ve been thinking the main reason is another one, though: we stop being curious as we age. We even get annoyed when others don’t stop being curious as they age.

A child asking why several times is cute.
A teenager or adult asking why several times is simply annoying.

It’s very hard to learn not just a language, but anything, if we don’t ask why; if we stop being curious.

Look at Bruce Dickinson, not only the famous singer for Iron Maiden, but also a songwriter, airline captain, aviation entrepreneur, motivational speaker, beer brewer, novelist, radio presenter, fencer, and film scriptwriter (great TedX talk, From Rock Star to Businessman). How did he learn all of that? The title of his autobiography, What does this button do?, says it all: curiosity!

For the last couple of years I’ve been noticing someone else who also embodies the notion of approaching life with a beginner’s mind: The Charismatic Voice’s Elizabeth Zharoff, an accomplished opera singer who can sing at this level.

In her reaction videos, she analyzes vocal techniques of several singers across all sorts of music genres and singing styles.

I enjoy watching her reactions because she always shows genuine childlike curiosity. It’s interesting to see her discovering the sound of a wah pedal, or hearing sounds she’s absolutely not used to, such as the chromatic runs in guitar solos by Randy Rhoads.

She always finds positive things to say, be it in the lyrics or in the emotion the singer delivers the words, regardless of whether it happens using a pretty, harsh, or tired (from age) voice.

She is curious about learning how different singers produce certain sounds. When she hears singers producing different types of screaming, she wants to understand how they do it without harming their vocal folds, even taking a singer who’s a specialist on harsh vocals to a clinic to have a camera put in his throat while he sings and see what the doctors find out. She’s even learning to growl herself!

Watching Elizabeth curiously react to singers and music I’ve been listening to for over 4 decades has helped me renew my appreciation for them through exploration of nuances I didn’t even realize were there, but most importantly, she’s a constant reminder of how to keep a beginner’s mind, and the growth that comes from it.

Instead of thinking/saying “been there, done that”, I’m practicing turning it into “hmm, what else is in there? A button! What does it do? And why?”

I’ll close this post by quoting a question from this interesting article that asks “is curiosity the greatest virtue?

“Could you perhaps work on your ability to become curious, to cultivate curiosity as a habit? If so, how?”

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