The Trap of Curiosity

I was reflecting on how insidious a passion curiosity is. Probably you are thinking, Curiosity, a passion? Well, it may not be found on any of the official lists of the passions, but I think it is a close subset. Curiosity is like a lot of things, not terrible when used the right way, as an appropriate tool, but it is a bad master.

Curiosity is what has led to a lot of scientific (and other) discoveries. All well and good. But what happens when you let Curiosity run away from you? What happens when Curiosity teams up with its ugly big brother Pride? If you have scientific curiosity and no humility then you can get into major trouble.

The problem with curiosity is it leads you into other things. It’s like a sweet child holding your hand… leading you straight into the Fire Swamp. How many things do we get into “just out of curiosity”? How many times do we ask someone something “just out of curiosity”? Curiosity leads us into gossip (“I wonder what is being said about X?) , slander (“Since I”m on this website I might as well spout off about how awful X is.”), pride (“I would never act as X has!”), lust (pornographic websites, anyone?), fornication (“I wonder how that old flame of mine is doing?”), anger (“How DARE they do that!”), etc., etc., etc. All because we gave in to curiosity.

It can be hard to see how something like this works out in practice. I don’t usually talk about myself much (yes, pick yourself up off the floor and stop laughing…I mean the inside of me) but I’ll give a few examples and I hope I won’t harm myself by mentioning them.

A little over a year ago I stopped visiting a certain website. It was meant to be contentious and I realized I was always in a bad mood when I left it. Things I read would make me angry, make me feel pride because I wasn’t as bad as what they were saying, etc. Sometimes I felt compelled to dive in headfirst and make snide comments. This knowledge came to me slowly and I tried to cut down the number of times I would go visit. That’s when I realized it was more than just a casual thing: I was addicted to it. The path back in to the site was always curiosity. I would say I was only curious to see what had been said about this or that. At some point I cut it off cold and gradually my curiosity waned.

One more example: I was part of an online group for many months. At some point I decided it wasn’t a spiritually healthy thing for me to be a part of so I left it…except that I didn’t. I would check back in because I was curious to see what was going on, how so-and-so was doing, etc. This was a very hard thing to leave because my social life is so small as it is. Several months ago I cut it off and finally have cut all the ties to people who belonged to that group. It’s a relief.

In each one of these cases it was curiosity that I was really fighting. It was the window that let any of the other passions in. I’ll be forever battling curiosity, it’s hardly something I’ve managed to conquer. But thank God I at last realized some of its dangers. For example I found this on the OCA website:

I’m fully aware that the Orthodox Church forbids astrology. But once,
out of idle curiosity, I looked up my astrological sign and read about
the personality type. It matched my personality nearly 100%…

 Curiosity can lead you into nearly anything. During Lent we pray the Prayer of St. Ephrem:

O Lord and Master of my life, give me not the spirit of sloth, despair, lust for power and idle talk.
But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity (integrity), humility, patience and love.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to
judge my brother. For blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.

 In Greek the word used in the place of “despair” is “περιέργια” which means “idle curiosity”. The next time you find yourself asking something “just out of
curiosity”, ask yourself whether you’re letting curiosity serve you…or
whether you are serving it. When your children start inquiring into
something that doesn’t concern them, point that out. Children ask a lot
of questions and while the vast majority are just part of learning, some are not. It’s not a bad thing for them to be learning how to control idle curiosity while they are young.

6 thoughts on “The Trap of Curiosity

  1. I just stumbled upon this while searching for something on Google. What a great post! You know how they call marijuana “the gateway drug?” I think curiosity could be called “the gateway sin.” It's the hand turning the knobs to so many doors…but not all of them lead to good things. Over time it becomes clear to us when we've allowed our curiosity to lead us down a road that took us off the straight and narrow.

    God bless!

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  2. I agree with so much of this post. It doesn't get discussed much either, but I think it is so important, and a key strength to impart to our children.

    On another note, I tried to add your badge to my blog, but it told me it had illegal characters (ha ha). Clearly I am not blog/tech savvy. Any advice?

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  3. We hope the raccoon is well and flourishing. His story appears earlier in the blog (for those who are recent comers).

    Anastasia, did you figure it out? I'll double check it but I added it to the bottom of this blog without problems. Let me know if you're still having problems.

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  4. We have a different translation of the prayer of St. Ephraim: “O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, curiosity, ambition and idle talk give me not….” So there it is.

    I'm wondering how it came about that the translator of your version connected curiosity with despair.

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  5. Maria, I don't know the whole history of this, but apparently the Greek translation of the prayer reds “curiosity,” whereas the Slavonic translation of the prayer says “despair.” I have no idea what the original Syriac text said. In any event, the translation of the prayer into English used in the Russian tradition (e.g., ROCOR, OCA) follows the Slavonic text.

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