Prometheus was the benefactor of mankind who created man from earth and water. He was fond of his creation and soon found himself fonder of man than the supreme ruler of Mount Olympus, Zeus, preferred. Wanting the best for man, Prometheus cunningly gave us fire—against the will of Zeus. Being the shrewd ruler that he was, Zeus, then gave man a gift—woman. Her name was Pandora. According to Hesiod, she was endowed with gifts from all the gods. (Hesiod, 1914) These gifts were placed in a jar (often translated as Pandora’s Box)—essentially labeled do not open—which she carried. Zeus presented Pandora to Prometheus’s brother, Epimetheus, as his bride. Apart from being beautiful and seductive, the most famous attribute of Pandora was her curiosity, and her curiosity got the best of all of us. Finding herself alone one day, she inquisitively opened the box to find that those “gifts” from the gods were actually all the plagues and evils known to man. The last thing to escape the box was contrary to the rest; it was hope. (Gill)
With all the positive attributes of curiosity and the benefits it bestows, the most common association with curiosity is someone getting into trouble. Being promiscuous, having uncontrollable urges and general bad behavior is what most people associate with it. Aberrant behaviors such as drug abuse, voyeurism, arson and promiscuity are seen by society as products of a curious soul. Conduct an image search for “Curiosity” on Google and you’ll find as much about sex as anything else.
Many will remember hearing as children the lesson “Idol hands are the devils workshop.” That saying originates from the poem Against Idleness and Mischief written by Isaac Watts in the 1700s.
Against Idleness and Mischief from Divine Songs for Children
HOW doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!
How skillfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labours hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.
In works of labour or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.
In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be passed,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.
Granted, kids can get into trouble, but a few instances do not accurately represent the whole of life. History is written on exceptions. World leaders, despots, saints and geniuses fill our history books. Almost every person listed in a history book is exceptional. Look into the person index of a huge anthology and see how many hundreds or maybe thousands of people are listed. How many Joe the Plumber(s) did you notice? Think about those in relation to the estimated 110 billion people who have inhabited the earth over the last 30,000 years or so. It is easy to take things out of context. The other day while driving across town to take my son to Tae Kwon Do lessons, a foolish driver was doing the usual things that foolish drivers do—tailgating, stomping the break and swerving to get around traffic. Instantly, I thought “people are crazy” it burns me up to see such carelessness and I blamed all of society. It just so happened that this occurred while writing this essay, so for a quick study, I asked my son to count all the cars on the road from where we were at that time until we reached our destination, Savannah Tae Kwon Do. Pulling into the parking lot of the studio I asked him for the tally. “485” he proudly stated. Thinking that this was an incredibly high number for the 10 minutes it took to finish our trip and the fact that the last couple of miles were on a neighborhood street, I asked “how many were parked?” About 50 he said. To be conservative, I’d actually estimate that we passed about 400 cars and therefore, 400 drivers who had not demonstrated any aggressive tendencies. Likewise, the negative consequences of curiosity stand out and the positive attributes are often forgotten. Without curiosity we would not take risks and risk is a pivotal component of innovation. Risk is also a part of having a meaningful life. Granted, some take more risks than others—and some very foolishly.
All this aside, it is true that even with all the benefits of curiosity, there are negatives that should be acknowledged. These can be considered tipping-points. As discussed earlier, curiosity has been spoken of as a passion, and we can spate passions into two categories—harmonious and obsessive. (Kashdan T. P., 2009, p. 213) When we engage in an activity on our own terms, it is a harmonious passion. The flip side of harmonious is obsessive. Obsessive behaviors are uncontrollable; we do them even when we don’t want to. It is easy to focus on the negative effects related to curiosity because they are more scandalous and sensational. Obsessive behaviors include stalking and the extremes of morbid curiosity among others. “Most studies however show that curiosity is a positive trait.” (Piccone) And curiosity is rated as the highest motivating factor for doctors since the 1920s. (Piccone) It was what motivated
John Hunter, who many regard as the father of scientific surgery is an example of how effects of curiosity can be simultaneously negative and positive. Though written as a kind man who rarely actually operated on a live person, his obsession with grave robbing to study the anatomy of corpses actually “led to public outcry and fear in the local news.” (Kashdan, 2009, p. 220) He even bribed a mourner to get the body of the 7ft 7in Irish giant, Charles Byrne, against his will which clearly stated for him to be buried at sea. Hunter went as far as to fake his burial with a casket full of rocks.