English writer and poet Samuel Johnson once defined curiosity as “the first passion and the last” in people with “great and generous minds.” I don’t know about the great and generous minds part, but we would have been friends, Samuel and me, because I am one curious person.
My curiosity has done everything from foster a successful career as a journalist at one of the country’s largest newspapers, to reaping exasperated sighs from family members weary of me asking too many questions. But, honestly, I just can’t help myself. So many people are so darn interesting. I learn things all the time about strangers, neighbors, friends…the person sitting next to me at the DMV…just because I ask a few questions that no one else bothers to consider.
My curiosity is almost always rewarding, and every once in a while it pays me back with a big fat fun surprise…
On my first trip to visit my missionary daughter and son-in-law in Haiti, I found myself studying the other passengers waiting with me at the airport. The majority of them were Haitian, but I noticed one eclectic group of men and women all talking and laughing together. Most were Caucasian, but, surprisingly, two taller men appeared to be Japanese. One of the Americans was noticeable for his wide smile, exuberant gestures and longish hair. Of course, being naturally curious, I tried to eavesdrop, but I was too far away to figure out why this group that piqued my curiosity was headed with me to the Caribbean’s poorest country.
I ask a few questions that no one else bothers to consider.
I didn’t need to wait long for an answer, because guess who sat down next to me on the plane? Yep, the smiling dude with the hair. Now, in my mind, who wouldn’t ask a few harmless questions about his purpose for the trip? We were two Americans going to Haiti… I knew I couldn’t possibly be the only one with an interesting reason!
So, naturally (for me), I turned to him and started asking questions.
Bingo! It turned out that Bryce Goark is an underwater videographer for National Geographic and other notable clients who travels the world having amazing adventures and making award-winning films. He was with a group of whale experts (whoa!), including two from Japan who were deemed among the foremost in the world in the study of sperm whales. They were headed to a remote coastal village where, for years, the local Haitians had been reporting sightings of sperm whales living right off their shore.
Because it is not a known habitat for the whales, and they appeared to be stationary rather than migratory, the team had assembled in hopes of ferreting them out for study and, hopefully, a future documentary. Bryce was along to film the quest and discovery of the whales. He also let me know the trip was very hush-hush because no other whale experts had yet gotten wind of the pod. If the Haitians’ stories were true, it would be a major discovery in the oceanographic world.
If I’d still been a reporter, I would have been furiously taking notes!
After many questions about the whales and the team and his career, I asked Bryce about his personal life. I learned that he lives in Hawaii with his wife and 5-year-old daughter. He shared that they were considering homeschooling her so the family could be together on his frequent world travels. Another bonus! I had home-schooled my daughter for many years, so I was able to encourage him and share some resources.
I got Bryce’s email address before we landed. I contacted him several months later to discover that the team had indeed found the whales, and the documentary, called “The Pod”.
I guess if there’s a lesson or encouragement from this brief encounter, it’s this: don’t be afraid to show interest in other people’s lives, including strangers! Everyone has a story. If people feel you’re prying, they’ll let you know. Otherwise, ask away. You never know when you’re going to hear a story that teaches you something new, allows you to help someone out, or just totally makes your day!
Postscript: Bryce also filmed an Emmy-nominated documentary on legendary marine biologist and explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle, who is considered the female counterpart to Jacques Cousteau. It’s titled “Mission Blue” and you can watch it on Netflix. I got to the end of the movie and saw Bryce in one of the very last scenes, captured briefly by another videographer on the boat they were diving from. You can learn more about Bryce at www.brycegroark.com.
What kind of questions should you ask to get to know someone? Check out Coffee Date Questions. You will also like Take a Moment to Stop and Listen and Ordinary Day, Extraordinary Moment