Curiosity—Good or Bad?
“WHERE did I come from?” “Why is the sky blue?” “How can God see me if I’m hiding?” “Where?” “Why?” “How?” Such is the refrain loving mothers continually hear from their young children.
Yes, children have a strong instinctive curiosity. They want to know the whys and wherefores of things. But do you know that this curiosity is one of man’s gifts from his Creator? It has proved to be of great help to mankind, but, like all other instincts and qualities, its use can be wise or otherwise, foolish or even harmful.
Curiosity has been defined as “an eager desire to know.” Also, as “the desire to see or learn something that is new or unknown.” Curiosity has been an important factor in extending man’s range of knowledge, and is to the mind what the appetite is to the body.
But, as has well been noted, there are different kinds of curiosity, bad as well as good. That is why it has also been defined in a bad sense as “inquisitiveness,” which is “the condition of being too eager to know,” and as a “prying into other people’s affairs.” Yes, curiosity can be misdirected. As an American essayist once expressed it: “Curiosity is lying in wait for every secret.” It is obvious that curiosity, if not properly controlled, might become a weakness rather than an asset. That is why it was necessary for certain Christians in apostolic times to be counseled not to be “meddling with what does not concern them,” but to ‘mind their own business.’—2 Thess. 3:11; 1 Thess. 4:11.
There is yet another kind of curiosity that needs to be guarded against, and that is the curiosity directed toward what is evil, cruel, wicked. Many people are curious regarding the details of shocking murders or sordid divorce cases, or other forms of scandal. But one cannot feed the mind on such things, even out of curiosity, without being harmed by it, no more than one can take poison into one’s body, merely out of curiosity, without being harmed by it. Youths have become drug addicts simply because of curiosity as to what it is like to take a drug. The same warning also applies to curiosity as to sexual immorality, even as it does to a misdirected curiosity regarding occultism, black magic, spiritism and “things like these.” One cannot dabble in such things without risking great harm to oneself.—Deut. 18:10-12; Gal. 5:19-21.
But, wisely directed, curiosity can prove to be a real asset. Thus it has well been noted that “curiosity is an intellectual trait that distinguishes man from all subhuman forms as clearly and completely as does thinking.” This is seen in as simple a thing as travel. Apes limit their wanderings to at most fifteen square miles, while man has searched out the four corners of the earth. Truly, curiosity is one of the great gifts with which the Creator has endowed our minds. It was curiosity that caused Isaac Newton to discover the law of gravity.
Because of the possibilities that curiosity thus presents, a Yale professor of history once told a new group of college students that, while curiosity may be frowned upon by many people, his institution placed a high value on men with great curiosity. He also explained that, while a research scientist, if asked about his efforts, might reply that he is hoping to discover or produce something of practical value, actually he is out to gain knowledge per se, of itself, regardless of whether it will result in anything practical or beneficial to mankind or not. While all such curiosity per se may have possibilities, of greater value to humankind is that kind of curiosity or inventiveness that is directed at specific goals. Thus there is a Danish inventor who discovered how to raise sunken ships. Because of the practical turn of this curiosity, many are the businessmen that beat a path to his door for him to help.
However, the most rewarding, the wisest curiosity is that directed toward religious questions, that is, those involving man’s relationship to his Creator and to his fellowman. The truly wise man wants to know, Where did I come from? How do we know there is a God? Why does God permit wickedness? What is man’s duty? What is my destiny?
And where are answers to such questions to be found? In the two great Books, the Book of Creation and the Bible, the inspired Word of the Creator, Jehovah God. The vast, orderly universe and all that is in it eloquently testify to the existence of God. And from his Word, the Bible, we learn that God created the earth and the first man and woman. (Gen. 1:1-31) That book reveals that God holds out the prospect of everlasting life in a paradisaic earth for humankind. (Isa. 11:1-9; Rev. 21:4) It also shows that God has permitted wickedness for the purpose of giving his archopposer, Satan the Devil, the opportunity to try to prove his boast that he could turn all men away from God, and to let men demonstrate to themselves their utter inability to govern themselves wisely apart from their Creator and his principles.—Job 1:7 to 2:10.
As for what is the duty of man, this can be and is summed up in various ways in God’s Word. Thus Solomon said: “Fear the true God and keep his commandments. For this is the whole obligation of man.” (Eccl. 12:13) And in particular did the Son of God enlighten us on this matter, for to the question, “Which command is first of all?” he said in answer: “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah, and you must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind and with your whole strength.’ The second is this, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”—Mark 12:28-31.
No question about it, curiosity can be wisely directed, and the wisest of all curiosity is that which leads you to a knowledge of your Creator and his purpose for you. Jehovah’s witnesses stand ready to help you gain this knowledge.