Do you live a life of curiosity in your conversations with others? Teri Elliott-Hart challenges us to look around at the people we come in contact with and learn to be curious.
By Teri Elliott-Hart
“How do I say good morning in your language?” I heard the clerk behind the plastic panel in the next booth say to her client. I watched her then write the phrase on a sticky note and hang it next to a patch of other colorful squares. “Thank you so much. Whenever I have a chance to learn new greetings I do. This way the next time I meet someone who is also from your country I can try it.”
Waiting there in the DMV I was struck by the power of curiosity. What a great reminder of living from a posture of openness to learning in our everyday contexts.
We gain so much by being willing to enter into another person’s experiences and expecting there to be something of value to learn. For me, this happens when I look up from the comfort of stacks of books I’m focused on as a professor, and into people’s lived stories. I might have a brief encounter with my plumber, or with another customer while waiting in line at the grocery store, or with someone while walking in the neighborhood. Each interaction builds my capacity to remain curious and grow, apart from book knowledge. If I can move through my days slowly enough, I will be taught by simple encounters with others. By seeing another person with expectancy, I can be enriched, challenged, and freshly informed simply by virtue of her having lived a life different from mine.
Such posture of openness to life-long learning may have its practical benefits—like acquiring a new language —but on a fundamental level it is beneficial to the soul. Following in the way of Jesus is to adopt a humble attitude toward learning. I love how Jesus began many of his relationships with questions; I imagine that people were surprised that the one whom they heard about as a rabbi, healer and prophet was interested in hearing their responses. He was always teaching, but he did not simply lecture. If patterning life after Jesus’ habits includes asking probing questions, this must also be a critical dynamic for the people of God in how we live together.
Those of us with leadership responsibilities will often be in a position of regularly teaching and providing answers to others’ questions. We may also be known as a good active listener, who runs meetings with openness, is accessible, and empathetic. However, I think demonstrating a deep curiosity through the questions we ask and the way we listen for those answers is slightly different from those other important skills. Curiosity about others as a habit means I am open for no reason other than honoring that anyone else’s tale or perspective could surprise me with an important life lesson. It can also help us embrace mutuality in relationships where there may otherwise be role expectations.
One way to self-examine in this area would be to ask, are there people within your community of faith or sphere of influence who would be surprised to hear that you are curious about their lives? Is there someone who has looked to you as a leader for so long, that she would be surprised to hear that you find her to be a great influence on your own life? If so, then perhaps there is an unconscious subversion of a spirit of receiving from others that can be acknowledged and addressed.
Will you join me in asking God if it’s time for you, too, to rekindle a sacred curiosity?
Reproduced and edited with permission from Women Engage, January, 2023 Denver Seminary.
Dr. Teri Elliott-Hart is an Assistant Professor of Training and Mentoring at Denver Seminary. She holds a PhD in Practical Theology from Boston College, a MEd in Teaching and Curriculum from Harvard University, and a BA in Education Studies from Brown University. Her teaching experience includes theology and Christian formation courses. She loves being a student and being a teacher and considers a posture of life-long learning to be essential for wholistic discipleship. Professionally, her love of teaching and learning has been expressed in movement from immersive ministry experiences, such as community development and teaching immigrant high schoolers, to the academic research about the questions raised in such contexts. Her current practical theology research includes the intersection of emotional intelligence with adult learning theory and approaches to developing self- awareness in leaders. Outside of academics, life giving activities include watching her son compete in Special Olympics, quiet time observing nature, and reading science fiction. She has 3 inspiring young adult children and daughter in-law and recently celebrated 30 years of marriage.