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Friday, November 8, 2019

Stay Curious, My Friends | by Megan Briggs

Quoting Albert Einstein, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.” 

Although his talents were profoundly special, I at least can relate to his 'passionately curious' claim. I once heard something I try to remind myself of when I feel angry or sad about current events, or irritated with my spouse or two sons (ages 9 & 12): The most peaceful state of mind is the state of curiosity. When I think about the glaring reasons why our criminal justice system is a mess, such as racism and capitalism gone wrong… I tell myself, “Stay curious, Megan.” I try to ask myself, why? How did it get this way? What are the stems of human nature at play here? Where did history go wrong, and how might we course correct? 

Or even, how might the way I think things should be, differ from the way my neighbor thinks they should be? Or when I have to tell my son to pick up his dirty clothes for the third time, instead of getting frustrated… well… that’s a difficult one to find curiosity for. Or, how about when he resists doing his homework? Instead of getting angry, how about I find the curiosity to discover why. I might find out that the subject is tough for him; or realize he needs to run around outside before getting to his work; or that he just prefers that I stay in the room while he works because he is such a people person.

Curiosity is my mind’s baseline, which is what launched me into the study of psychology in college. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the degree, but I didn’t think too much about that. I craved learning about how humans think and behave. It was curiosity that pushed me through any fear-based reluctance to facilitating Coffee, Tea & Civil Conversations at Broad Street Grind, a local coffee shop in Souderton, PA. The owner of the coffee shop had a vision of hosting civil conversations where people from across the political spectrum come together to discuss a specific topic in a civil manner, and seek to understand. 

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I offered to help him get these events off the ground, because this was the exact thing I wanted to be a part of-- not necessarily to facilitate them-- but that’s what ended up happening. So, going on two years now, every month a group of about 20 people show up to discuss topics such as immigration, guns, race, gender inequality, mental health, religion, etc.  We agree to a set of rules of engagement such as “We will not educate on a topic,” “We will speak out of our experiences and from our perspective” and “When I disagree with something, I will notice my feelings and choose to stay curious.”

At the top of each of these gatherings, I quote Brene Brown, who credits the Institute for Civility and Government with this definition: “Civility is the claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.” I’m passionate about the work of getting people together for face-to-face, intentional conversations, because I believe people soften when we look into the eyes of another while listening to his/her/their story. This work is my current role to play in hopes of creating a more peaceful society.