Don’t be Helpful, Be Curious

Albert Einstein is certainly one of the smartest people of the past century. Just even the name makes us think of brilliance and a capacity for remarkable mathematical calculations. However, that is not always how Einstein understood himself. He once said, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.” He saw life as something to explore and understand through the lens of awe and wonder, and he believed we could do this everyday and everywhere. He wrote, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day.”

Curiosity is at the heart of this invitation to love our neighbours and our city. Author Peter Block once said, “Don’t be helpful, be curious.” It seems like an odd invitation, but it rings true. Sometimes we think our purpose is to be helpful, to fix this, resolve that, or answer a hard question with a pat answer. However we are not just here for the utility of our community as though we are a commodity, albeit a good and helpful resource. We are people and that means we are learning to see ourselves in relationship to others; connecting, learning, and growing. For this, we need curiosity.

Curiosity makes us, and those around us, real. People are to be met, respected, heard, and appreciated for who they are, not just for what they can accomplish. Curious people begin by asking good questions, they read and learn, curious people realize that the world is complex and each place is different, and they are patient with the bumpy and gritty edges of others and their community. In other words, curiosity makes us gracious and that draws us closer to others. Curious people, like Einstein, are not lazy or put off by a big challenge. In fact, they tend to lean in and, ironically perhaps, become the most helpful people around. 

Curious people also have a special way of seeing and appreciating the small things, too. Curiosity makes good doctors find new diseases, or teachers spot a student’s budding passion. For those of us who seek the peace and goodness of our city, curiosity helps us discover a network of people who do small things that make our city thrive. A robust curiosity for others is a sign, perhaps, of deepening character. 

When someone shows curiosity about my life, I also feel loved. Sometimes I need people to be curious, not helpful. I need someone who wants to know my name, ask me how I’m doing, and genuinely appreciate my particular point of view. This is what a good neighbourhood can do in each of us. Our street becomes the place where we can be helpful, sure, but more than that, we can become curious here.

Next time you see your neighbour, worry less about how you can help or fix something, and think about how you can be curious about them. Share your story, and ask about theirs. Take a posture of wonder and awe and let the lives of those around you be inspiring to you. Like Einstein, you really do not have to have any great talent to live a full life, you just have to be passionately curious. Who knows what we’ll discover next, I guess we’ll just have to find out.


About the author

Preston Pouteaux

Preston Pouteaux

Preston is a pastor at Lake Ridge Community Church in Chestermere and experiments mostly in the intersection of faith and neighbourhood. Into the Neighbourhood explores how we all contribute to creating a healthy and vibrant community. Preston is also a beekeeper; a reminder that small things make a big difference.

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