Being Curious is to be Vulnerable

Recently I was listing to an interview of Henry Rollins, the former lead singer of the Los Angeles based hardcore band, Black Flag. Rollins has since -- among many things -- turned author, photojournalist, activist and avid traveler. It was Rollins’ travel advice that caught my ear, and stayed with me.

I think when you show genuine curiosity, and when you're confident enough to walk alone with a smile on your face, people think, he really wants to be here. And you ask a question, and all of a sudden you're getting invited in for tea and food. If you're polite and show due respect, I think people get it. It's almost canine and instinctive, and when you're being disingenuous, they get that, too. But when you're being genuinely kind, it's so disarming.

It is Rollins’ words, “genuine curiosity” that stuck with me. The question I posed myself was, am I staying curious, and is my curiosity genuine?

Some tough days I find myself strapping my headphones to my ears, putting my sunglass on, bowing my head real low, and speed walking down the city streets toward my destination. On these days, I don’t want to talk to anybody, I don’t want to bump into anybody, and I don’t want to interact with another soul. I get internally fuming mad, and almost hope people get in my way, so that it may fuel my fire, and justify my frustration. When I am finally able to get out of that mood and reflect on my feelings, I get a disappointed in myself for not having been more open, more friendly, and more willing to engage others. After all, I came to Japan to dive into another culture learn as much as I can about its people and practices. I came to Japan to be a tourist and a traveler. Ignoring the world isn’t exactly what a tourist does. I think I have to go easy on myself, because the fact is I have been living here for almost 3 years now. In three years, Japan has become my home. And like anywhere else I would make my home, I have had good days and bad days. I have highs and lows. The question is, throughout these highs and lows, how can I stay genuinely curious like Rollins says?

Being curious means being vulnerable. Being vulnerable means saying things like,  “I don’t know what this is? Please teach me about it” Being vulnerable takes courage. It’s hard to admit that you don’t know something. Courage is something I possess, but not each and every time I step out of the front door. So those days I’m not feeling courageous are the days I blast that music and tune out the world. Contrastingly, on those days where I am feeling courageous, my attitude has the effect of opening doors. People want to talk about themselves. They want to share their lives, their feelings, and their knowledge. When I open up and ask, “What is this all about?” people are more than willing to share.  

I guess I can afford myself those “tune out” days, just as long as they significantly outnumber my days of maintaining an open mind filled with genuine curiosity, because Japan is a curious place indeed. The population here is littered with hospitable folks who are willing to open their doors and share their experiences with those who care to listen. What I’m slowly realizing is that curious and vulnerable attitude is not just one to adopt when I go traveling, like Rollins’ says. This attitude can permeate my personality and become me. I can be a traveler in my own neighborhood. I just need to keep an open mind, keep a smile on my face, and maintain a genuinely curious attitude.

Guest Author Peter Thoene is a graduate of the University of San Francisco, and is currently an English instructor at a public school in Yokohama, Japan. 

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