I have been contemplating how so many of the common sayings we grew up with have hurt us, even though they may have been intended to help us. “Money is the root of all evil, “sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me” and, of course, “curiosity killed the cat,” are just a few. In the case of “money is the root of all evil,” this one phrase has put so many of us directly at odds with that thing most of us could use more of every day.
The paradox being, if we desire more money, and yet consider it evil, why would we draw it towards us? Similarly, the “sticks and stones” phrase bypasses the fact that we are thinking and feeling beings who have been hurt by words and have used words to hurt. Often times, emotional pain is much more persistent in our lives than physical pain; one’s parent calling them worthless at the age of three can become a belief that haunts them well into adulthood.
Then, there is the old saying, “curiosity killed the cat.”
What is most interesting to me, as a love and intimacy coach who is often invited into discussions on healing sexism and racism, is that I always advocate for people to get curious about each other as the access to healing. It is important to note that this phrase, like many others in our history, began as something else. “Care killed the cat,” was the original phrase that evolved over time. The notion of curiosity being harmful was the result of people asking probing questions about the affairs of others, who probably did not want to answer those questions. Perhaps it was the consideration that certain things are “none of your business.” Perhaps it was those who did not want to be held accountable. Whatever the original reasons, we have become a society who is hesitant to ask the questions of each other that are the most important.
Often when repairing a relationship with a couple, my first step is to give them permission to be curious about each other. I ask them if they know why their partner reacts the way that they do to certain things, or if they know about their partner’s upbringing and how it affects them. Usually, they don’t. Occasionally, they know some of the details, but not the actual experience those details cause.
For instance, in one husband-wife couple, she would always pull away after they had a deep bonding experience. He would then feel rejected and aggravated. I asked him if he knew why she did this and he rattled something off like, “yeah, her dad was never around and her mom was very controlling.” She nodded in agreement. I then asked, “do you know how that caused her to feel?” He was silent and then said that he did not. I coached him to ask her, which he did, and she expressed a whole world of pain and confusion around intimacy. She shared how she was terrified he would leave, just as her dad had emotionally done. She shared how her mom’s intimacy was used to control her and make her into a “perfect little doll of a girl,” which she resented…actually, which she hated.
She then shared how, although she loved him very much, the fear she had been carrying around for over 40 years was so intense that she really did not know how to cope. Together, we found a way for him to provide the space and distance she needed, without him feeling resentful. The result was, she began to reach for him sooner. Because he “got her,” without any judgment, she felt safe and the wound began to heal. His curiosity, and willingness to provide for her, was the key to saving their relationship.
The same thing applies in regards to sexism and racism.
In interviews, I am always asked what would make the difference in moving those conversations forward. A big part of the divide is the unwillingness of some to acknowledge the experience of those who are or have been, oppressed. As an example, instead of a white person asking, or listening to a Person of Color about their experience in society, we tend to be quick to make judgments based on our own experiences. Being a white man in America, there are automatic assumptions made about me that are different from those of, say, a black woman. There is a wealth of available information on these differences; the question is, “will we seek the answers?” The majority of my work is based on my curiosity about people, about myself and about how the world works. If you read my books, take my courses or work with me as a coach, you will notice very distinctly that I never tell anyone how they should or should not be. The access to everyone’s healing is in discovering what works for that individual. What works often begins with an understanding of what their experience has been.
“Curiosity” promotes connection and can be applied anywhere. I encourage my clients who are in the dating world to get curious about themselves. I ask them to spend alone time asking questions and recording their answers in a journal. I encourage them to spend “intimate” alone time with themselves to explore what feels good and to notice how their bodies respond. There is really nothing I can think of that is negative about being curious. Then, what about those who say “mind your own business?” We get to have boundaries about what we share as well. This is where we come full circle in communication: you can (and should) ask anything you want, and the other person has the option to answer or not. This is how we connect and this is what will save us.
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