The Intersection of Curiosity & Courage
Shortly after matriculating from the crawling to walking, (so my maternal legend goes), I still languished each night in my old fashioned crib with fixed rails. In common with most children in America, cribs and playpens were my first detention facilities. That meant a good deal of (then) home was “unexplored.”One morning as Mom and Dad were still sleeping, I apparently I tired of waiting for my captors to release me. With curiosity whispering in my ear, I slipped the surly confines of my crib. Post-event forensics suggest I managed to climb out of the crib without waking my parents blissfully sleeping through my jail break.
I don’t remember the event personally. Did I crawl or waddle my diapered ass in bare feet past my parents’ bedroom? Who knows? It seems likely this question will remain a mystery for eternity. In any event, (again, as the story goes) my wanderings led me to freshly washed and folded laundry in the laundry basket, which Mom kept in the kitchen next to the stove. A curious little bugger, I had observed my mother cooking and been fascinated by the little twisty thingees controlling the stove burner. Back then, there was no CPSC to mandate stove controls she be out of reach of toddlers.
If someone hasn’t already, behavioralists should study the incipient destructive proclivities of toddlers…well, boy toddlers, anyway. Reaching as high as my diminutive height permitted, I apparently managed to turn on one of the front burners, whereupon I began merrily tossing freshly laundered shirts, blouses and underwear on the burning gas range. My mother’s acute sense of smell and decisive action rescued me from my (probably) disastrous first experiment with fire. Years later, she related this story often, with an amused smile and a degree of sanguinity possible only in retrospect.
Since that morning so long ago, the curiosity coaxing me from safe incarceration as a toddler has resurfaced with almost perverse regularity, getting me into innumerable scrapes, minor and major—all related to my sense of wonder and a desire to know and to experience…including things for which I was arguably ill-equipped to do well or even survive.
An incomplete list include of those “curiosities” have included surfing waves larger than I had any business attempting, skiing black diamond slopes in howling white-out blizzards and riding horses a good deal beyond my modest skill.
I’ve often wondered what gets into me—usually after narrowly escaping the consequences of my ill-advised curiosity. My curiosity hasn’t moderated with age, though the mediums and methods by which I indulge them is tempered by forethought absent from my earlier years. But it still gets me into trouble, I confess, whether the attendant pain is physical or emotional.
Every gym rat will be familiar with the old wheeze, “No pain, no gain.” Most of us recognize, at some level, the correlation between activity (i.e., consistent effort) and a desirable payoff. This utilitarian “give something to get something” enshrines effort as a means to an end…or payoff.
But as I have grown older, I’ve taken to wondering if accepting challenge is not a payoff in and of itself? Does not the act of pushing our limits strengthens us, win or lose…assuming we survive? Often we are altered in ways we don’t see until later. In daring, inquiring exploring, striving despite the risks, we often find ourselves and our limits.
And somewhere along the way, many of us conclude courage and curiosity are first cousins. In the unconscious fire experiment with which I opened this post, I was unaware of the risks. My curiosity was not courage. But as my self-awareness grew, I have discovered risk often does not deter me. And so is it is with many of us. We wonder and seek answers. We dare, even knowing the risks. Sometimes, we discover, it is braving the risk that is the reward.
What is the most courageous thing you have done and why? What did you learn from it? Leave us your story in “comments,” if you’re open to sharing. And while you’re here, subscribe to my newsletter.
Dirk Sayers is a retired, decorated Marine officer, corporate trainer turned author. He is the author of West of Tomorrow, a contemporary novel of love, will be published later this year or early in 2016. He is concurrently working on Through the Windshield, an anthology of short stories do out in 2017. Please feel free to comment or contact him with any questions.