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Curiosity: The Little Word that Could

Rachel Alexander Nov. 22, 2016

{5:80 minutes to read} Curiosity: A simple word that can unlock possibilities, shift paradigms, and free us from the bondage of our own “rightness.”

In Focus Oriented Therapy, we are called to settle into the here and now, sense into our body, check in with ourselves with a “childlike curiosity.” This invitation, this language, has amazed me. I have become enthralled with the concept of curiosity! It asks such a complete departure from unconscious living. It holds an almost touching possibility of compassionate attention.

I am curious about how effective an approach of curiosity could be in divorce mediation. Could curiosity be a golden key to unlocking conflict?

In conflict like divorce, people often contract into rigid positions, false certainty, their own “rightness.” Rather than the actual conflict that needs resolving, the immovability of the parties itself becomes an obstacle to settlement. With this stiffened, positional attitude, negotiation is impossible. Thinking is usually black and white, unnuanced, inflexible.

Resolution requires a movability, a spaciousness. I propose that curiosity provides that.

We can introduce curiosity by shifting slightly, and approaching first ourselves with a “childlike” and “interested” curiosity. What does this approach look like? It is similar to the way we would approach a frightened little child whom we had never met. It is how we might approach an injured animal we wished to aid. We don’t race towards it. We assess, move slowly, check in with the little one as we move closer. We don’t yet know what is wrong, what is needed, or even if we should get closer. This brings a living, aware and open attitude. It requires a continual checking in with our own internal sense and our sense of the other. It makes room for both. It implies our acknowledgment of the unknown.

Curiosity allows us to back up a bit from the entanglement and immediacy of the situation. It loosens our grip and asks us to observe what is taking place before engaging. This is anathema to how we tend to be when we are threatened, angry, deep into a conflict.

With curiosity, we regain our composure. We change stances and become more of an explorer, a visitor in our own situation. We want to see what’s going on, within and then also without. We don’t need to assert, change, judge, fix, condemn. We merely need to look into what is occurring.

If we become curious about the other:

  • What makes the house so important to her?

  • What is this experience for him?

We begin to listen and relate differently. Our attention turns. Our approach becomes more of a listening observer.

This doesn’t mean we give up ourselves and cave in to the demands of the other. Quite the opposite. In this place we are stronger and more effective because we are more present. We are more fully there, have more of ourselves “online,” accessible and thus can more fully assess what’s needed. We settle and slow down a bit. We start to inhabit a more comfortable, attuned separateness, as well as make possible a more helpful engagement.

In conflict, a genuine curiosity into what the other is up against, what she is hoping for, what he is struggling with, a shifting to understand the other immediately introduces a tone of respect and concern. Still from a safe distance. A humanness emerges. In this space, a space when the parties acknowledge the other’s otherness, their own wholeness and separateness, possibilities emerge, blood pressure drops, and settlements form.

Here is an example. A painfully introverted friend recently had to go to a large networking event, alone. She knew no one going and was filled with dread. We introduced curiosity. Instead of looking at herself from the outside, a stance which engendered self-consciousness and anxiety, she adopted an attitude of curiosity into what would be happening around her. Who are these other people attending the event? What are they there for, what are they all about? Could there be something of value, perhaps even something fascinating or precious to be discovered in conversation? Cloaked in the thick buckskin of curiosity, she would enter the event with greater ease; an explorer, with clear intent and interest. Curiosity can anchor us when we enter the unknown.

Curiosity is not obsession or fascination. It doesn’t grab, demand, insist. It is light and careful, perhaps even cautious. It is an approaching with a light touch, an asking, a checking into. It is the antidote for stuckness, meanness, holding fast. An appropriate and helpful stance to hold in conflict, divorce and certainly in mediation.