October is the perfect month to think about the power of curiosity and the importance of pursuing it. Fear and curiosity seem to awaken the same feelings of anticipation, excitement, and even trepidation. The question of who is behind each mask at a Halloween party. The feeling young trick-or-treaters have while out at night and wandering to strange houses that makes them feel bold and even mischievous. Holding the back of a friend’s shirt to be “prepared” for the next scare around the corner in a haunted house.
October is the month where we challenge the normalcy of the everyday. And purposely put ourselves into somewhat precarious situations. It turns out that our curious nature and irrational taste for fear is fun. In Michael J. Fanuele’s book Stop Making Sense: The Art of Inspiring Anybody, he argues that terror robs us of our reason, which inspires our imagination.
“We fear what we don’t know, the dark, the anonymous heavy breathing on the other side of the phone call, the far away, whatever lurks under our bed in the creepy night hours. … When we can’t quite see a thing clearly, our imagination takes flight. … Darkness might foretell disaster — or it might foretell wonder. Either way, it’s arousing.”
Halloween, the dark, fear, the unknowable, and irrationality all make us look at the world in ways we normally would not.
Several years back I was watching the John Carpenter movie Halloween with my 8-year-old son. (My poor parenting decisions are a topic for a different day.) But he begged, and I acquiesced.
For those who have not seen the movie, here’s a very quick overview, courtesy of rottentomatoes.com:
“On a cold Halloween night in 1963, 6-year-old Michael Myers brutally murdered his 17-year-old sister, Judith. He was sentenced and locked away for 15 years. But on October 30, 1978, while being transferred for a court date, a 21-year-old Michael Myers steals a car and escapes Smith’s Grove. He returns to his quiet hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, where he looks for his next victims.”
Okay. You are up to speed.
We are watching the scene when Michael Myers escapes from the mental health facility. It’s dark, storming, and windy as his psychiatrist and an accompanying nurse arrive, struck with fear from the scene they find. Escaped patients are wandering outside creepily in the darkness, visible only by their approaching car headlights. What isn’t mentioned in the above synopsis is that when the psychiatrist exits the car frantically to search for Michael, he leaves the nurse alone in the car.
As soon as he leaves the car — you guessed it— Michael shows up, smashes through the car window, and attacks the nurse. She manages to flee for her life. (Whew!)
Michael then gets in the car — and drives it — speeding away from the scene.
It’s all seemingly believable, at least by horror movie standards.
Until my son asks me to pause the movie and asks, “How does Michael Myers know how to drive a car?”
Me: “Ugh. Well, umm?”
I have seen this movie 47 times over the years and never once thought to question this small detail, which is somewhat insignificant to the overall plot and trajectory of the movie.
But his question made me pause. And I had no answer for him.
And so our discussion ensued. If Michael Myers had been in a mental health facility for 15 years, how on earth did he know how to use the gear shift to put the car in drive, use the brake, the clutch (it was the ’70s), and the gas. And then navigate the open road?
In his book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant writes that the hallmark of originality is rejecting defaults and exploring better options, and the starting point is curiosity. He goes on further to discuss the concept of vuja de, the opposite of déjà vu. Déjà vu occurs when we encounter something new, but it feels as though we’ve seen it before. Vuja de is the reverse : We face something familiar, but we see it with a fresh perspective that enables us to gain new insights into old problems. My son zapped me with some vuja de.
This is the power of a perfectly timed question driven by curiosity.
What I learned from him that evening was to always pay attention. To take time to notice small details about the world around me. To wonder what defaults and constructs I accept because they have always been so and how I could ask the right questions that lead to discussions around “why?” And then, “what if?”
In the 1992 movie Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin’s character angrily and infamously tells his sales staff, “A.B.C. Always be closing.”
To keep us curious and our minds creative, maybe we modify that a bit to be A.B.Q.?
Always be questioning.
And embrace a little fear.