Did Curiosity Kill the Cat?

Attributed to British playwright Ben Jonson in his 1958 play, Every Man in His Humour, the phrase ‘Curiosity killed the cat’ has been misunderstood and misused through time. In its original form, ‘Care killed the cat’, it means to ‘worry’ or have ‘sorrow’. If anyone was to observe a young kitten at play, or for that matter, any young sentient life form, one would observe a beautiful pattern in the seemingly chaotic or random behavior. Far from being worried or sorrowful, the reflex of reaching out to sense the world is one programmed by nature for individual survival.

The meaning of ‘curious’ as used in the mid-14th century is ‘subtle’ or ‘sophisticated’. That is exactly what the natural programming that we are all born with and born into is – a behavior very difficult to distinguish at appearance levels and far more complex to manipulate. Science has only recently begun to discover what was known to the ancient people about this nature of the Universe. Far from being timid and fearful of nature, primitive man experienced a feeling of deep reverence and wonder towards the Universe. No wonder then that the ancient Polynesians were able to navigate across the oceans of the world on their small canoes with no technology, other than that which nature provided. Their curiosity helped them to sense the patterns in the Universe and build a deep and vast repository of knowledge that they passed down orally from generation to generation. It is rightly called a ‘body of knowledge’ as it was sensed and built up by a consciousness integrated in mind and body and in-tune with this natural play happening around them.

Today, our ‘body of knowledge’ lies entombed in billions of books, printed on paper from trees of tropical rain forests, archived in libraries no one visits. Despite a sensory overload from the media around us, many suffer from sensory deprivation of natural stimulus and they even have a name for it – Nature Deficit Disorder. We make our children sit for hours on end, so they may learn answers to questions that hold no meaning for them. It’s not surprising then that many of our youngsters feel like failures in life and resort to unnatural ways of feeling high through addictions of various kinds. Many resort to taking their own lives, rather than face and fight a societal culture that makes them feel inadequate and not good enough. It’s not ‘Curiosity that killed the cat’, rather its total suppression that has led to the state of affairs we find ourselves in.

How then should we redeem the situation?

Let’s start by first having faith in nature and its creation. Just like no plant needs to be taught that it should strive to grow taller to receive maximum sunlight, similarly we must trust that our children come with the code to reach their own unique full potential. All we need ensure, is the right environment within which they can make efforts on their own to fulfil their needs for growth.