My hobby is embroidery, or when I’m feeling keen to impress people – I refer to myself as a needle artist. Of course I’ve never sold a thing. It’s like writing books – your parents, your grandmother and your boyfriend buy them so Thanksgiving isn’t awkward but other than that the down payment for the yacht is perpetually lost in the mail.
Nevertheless, I do on rare occasions get notes from visitors. What is odd is that both messages I have received over the past year were from people telling me that they love embroidery but they’d never be able to do it. They don’t try and fail, they just assume defeat and never initiate even a nominal effort. Then, instead of simply forgetting about it and moving on, or shelving their failure in the shame bucket to be revisited the next time they’re at the therapist – they publicly claim to a complete stranger that they failed at something that they never attempted.
It’s odd to me. It made me think of past centuries when scientists experimented with all sorts of chemicals whose properties they were totally oblivious to upon threat of disease or death in the name of discovery. Or of explorers setting out from their countries of origin to the ends of the earth – which they thought they would fall off of at some point as they neared its edge – just to see what was there.
The purest form of an exploration instinct is often referred to as “childlike curiosity.” It goes away for most of us as we fall into the monotonous trap of a “settled life.” Yet for some, as those previously mentioned, it can blossom into a magnificent drive that has led to some of the greatest advances in our civilization over time.
Yet sometimes I wonder if the lack of that explorer instinct that seems endemic these days, aside from a few whose existence seems in peril of extinction in the not so distant future, is because the curiosity attributed to children is itself an increasingly disappearing virtue. For example, on a recent trip to a local park every parent I saw was on a cell phone, the teenagers were walking around glued to electronic devices and even the toddler in the stroller was mesmerized by a two- dimensional mind numbing game from which they would elicit no inspiration whatsoever. Yet the minute it was taken out of their hands a howl that could have been heard on Mars was unleashed from the bowls of dependence further shining a light on a curiosity instinct clearly on life support.