How curiosity can save the cat
This column is not about cats. I promise you. I will never write a column about cats. I am a dog person.
However, I am fascinated with the old saying: “curiosity killed the cat.” I can recall my grandma saying those words to me long ago. Judging by our cat population, either cats aren’t curious, or grandma was just wrong.
As a grown up, I have found that my general curiosity about things is my greatest source of fuel. It motivates me to learn and understand things. Conquering my own confusion or ignorance is soothing. And it is also a path that often leads to peacefulness.
In three different conversations this week, I found myself discussing the same topic, a topic that has many different names. Prejudices, biases, or irrational judgements could have easily been the descriptive of these otherwise insignificant little chats.
First, I found myself talking to an elected official from a small town in northeast Indiana. Like me, he is white and about my age (old). He told me about a conversation he had with an African American policy maker from the city who told him that he needed to go to training to learn about their culture. This old white guy agreed, but then made a suggestion in return of the exact same advice.
Both of them are correct.
The next day, I found myself in the midst of an electronic conversation with a friend of Indian descent. She is first generation American Indian, the child of a couple who came to the States for a chance at a better life and more opportunities for their kids. It is a family who came here through all the appropriate channels and have positively contributed to society in many ways.
My friend is now the mother of three children, a blend of her and her Caucasian husband, and is wondering where she and her family fit into today’s America. She is more afraid than angry about some things she is seeing and feeling in our culture now. The Olathe, Kansas shooting in late February of two men from India is an example.
This hate based shooting, made infamous in part as a result of the shooter yelling “get out of my country” as he opened fire should disturb us all. It is an example of dangerous ignorance with irreversible consequences.
But what are we learning from things like this? Was this monster a random nut who was looking for anyone or any group available to victimize, or was his rampage more culturally significant? The impact his terrorist behavior had on the larger group is real, regardless of the suspect’s intent. Whether this man was an idiot or a conspirator, American Indians have been understandably rattled.
To finish my week, I met with a young African American man with whom I am starting a new project. His job during much of 2016 included traveling throughout Indiana. He had no horror stories of discrimination, or news of anything troubling at all. More importantly, his appreciation of the awareness his coworkers had of his position as the “only black guy in the room” is what struck me. It seems like a simple gesture, and it is. It’s importance though could be realized if that awareness leads to learning and then to understanding.
I have been fortunate in my life to spend considerable time with a great variety of people. During my conversation with my Indian friend this week, I explained to her that when I was younger, I rarely acted on my cultural ignorance. If I didn’t understand something that was going on around me with someone who was different than I was, I just kept it to myself.
As I have gotten older, I have grown more inclined to seek answers to my questions. Awareness of my ignorance makes it ok for me to ask stupid questions. It also frees me from prejudging things. I don’t think racially hateful people appreciate all that the freedom from prejudice brings.
When grandma told me that curiosity kills the cat, I’m sure I was about to do something particularly stupid, annoying, or generally unsafe. I’m also sure she was not telling me that curiosity was bad.
We all need to learn more about each other. The best way to start is to acknowledge that we all have plenty to learn. In a nation of immigrants, it must be exhausting to hate first and ask questions later. My best advice is to skip step one. It’s just a better way to live.
Unless this column actually was about cats. I’m glad it isn’t. I am not curious about them at all.