Curiosity is the key to getting to know your Neighbors

“Curiosity killed the cat” — it’s a simple proverb that many of us heard during childhood. We were often discouraged from being curious to avoid what might happen if we acted on our curiosity. The cat often died. Fortunately, cats have nine lives.

No matter how old you are, there is power in being curious. Curiosity is the key ingredient for lifelong learning and the fuel for building strong relationships. And it is the foundation for any worthwhile conversation.

Just consider the definition of conversation: the mutual sharing of ideas, stories, and experiences around a specific topic that builds common ground. Conversations are the way humans connect. Yet you will not have a conversation with someone unless you are curious first. Think about this the next time you meet someone new.

Curiosity is also a basic tenet of community engagement. After all, how can you truly engage a community that you are not interested in? Community engagement without curiosity is at best selfish and at worst impossible. A lack of curiosity can even establish the many walls that so often divide our communities.

Look around us. The ground is fertile for division. Most conflicts and disagreements originate when individuals stop being curious about others’ points of view. This mindset fortifies the walls that divide us since we believe we already understand a person, belief, idea, or choice. We give in to the illusion that we know everything we need to know.

However, when curiosity is interjected, there is an opportunity for authentic conversations and true community engagement. As we lean into a curious question, we will learn more through conversation than we could through a debate. In addition, this approach allows us to put a face, a name, and perhaps a shared experience to what once were just issues, generalities, and opposing beliefs and ideas. Curiosity can provide context and a personal identity to what is dividing us.

As Greenville tackles complex community issues, let’s be part of the solution by allowing ourselves to be curious. Instead of inadvertently building walls, let’s tear them down for the betterment of all. Commit to initiating conversations, asking questions, and intentionally listening.

You may ask: Will curiosity end racism, fear of opposing beliefs, skepticism of people who look different than us, and countless other critical social issues? Of course, the answer is no. However, curiosity is the hammer that we as a Greenville community can begin to use to break through the walls that divide us. Curiosity is a critical first step to building strong relationships in our personal lives, organizations, and beyond.

An anonymous author once said, “The future belongs to the curious. The ones who are not afraid to try it, explore it, poke at it, question it, and turn it inside out.” Without being careless, curious people are not afraid to try the unfamiliar, explore the undiscovered, poke the unknown, and question the unchallenged. They turn the status quo on its head in order to know what could be — not just be content with what is.

On April 12, Shine the Light Nonprofit Forums, in partnership with United Way of Greenville County, the Community Foundation of Greenville, and the Hollingsworth Funds, is eager to share the gift of curiosity with Greenville’s nonprofit leaders for our discussion, “Community Engagement: Authentic Voices Really Matter.” The event starts at 8 a.m., and it takes place at the Warehouse Theater. The cost for this half-day session is $85. For more information, visit

There, we will build a wall together to demonstrate the many barriers each of us face when trying to engage folks who are different than we are. With the power of curiosity, we will conclude by breaking through the wall and outlining a future course for building more bridges in our community.

Let’s reinvent the proverb “Curiosity killed the cat.” Going forward, consider saying to your children and grandchildren, “Curiosity made the cat stronger.” Now is the time as a community to become more curious, so that we will be even stronger and once again top a list. This time as “the most curious community in the world.”

*This article was written with Debbie Nelson and appeared in print in the April 9, 2017 issue of the Greenville Journal

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Jonathan Parker

Jonathan Parker is the director of city involvement at Fellowship Greenville and the creator of the Art of the Conversation leadership training.

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