My four-year-old grandson is fascinated by the Tasman Bridge. This towering structure with its scary and risky stories draws his little mind and its curiosity. Thirty years ago, the same fascination dwelt in his father. I’m regularly caught up in déjà vu as I drive across the bridge hosting the same conversations over to the back seat as I hosted three decades ago.
To support this curiosity, the kiddo, his sister, and I are on a mission to view the bridge from as many angles as we can. Our outings usually involve a small picnic. We settle on a spot to sit and munch apples and muesli bars as we gaze at the bridge from the new angle we have found. From underneath, from high upon kunanyi* – from this side, that side, and a multitude of perspectives (a new vocabulary item proving itself very useful).
I’m not as interested in the bridge as the lad is. But of course, I’m interested in him. And curiosity is a primary emotional response, which when shared positively, builds consciousness, positive sense of self, knowledge, and security of attachment. And these good things build the towering inner structures of lasting character and values.
Little sister is not that interested in the bridge either. But of course, she is interested in the connection fostered within the outings. (And the food.) And positive connection in the full range of emotions also builds those great assets of character.
So, he is learning about bridges, perspectives, and connection; and she is learning about connection and the warm social value of supporting the curiosity of another – with a bit of bridge and perspective knowledge sticking to the sides. (And don’t worry, she also gets her turns to lead the curiosity on her chosen topics.)
And me? I’m filling my joy and easing my mind. Warm connection, no matter the simplicity of the central topic, is good for us. It is simultaneously salve for the aches, and fuel for the forward journey.
In 1994 West Indies cricketer, Brian Lara, smashed out a first-class cricket record-breaking 501 runs not out, against Durham. Adulations and celebrations burst into the news. At the time, I heard an interview with Lara’s mother, Pearl. Some words she said have stayed with me. The interviewer asked if she had talked with her son since the amazing event. She had. The interviewer then asked her about her discussion with Lara and her reaction to the news. She replied kindly and simply, “We don’t talk about cricket, Brian and I”.
I found those few words as astonishing as the match result. They breathed of the deep connection between that mother and son. They hinted at the pleasure in the simplicity of whatever their central topics might be. (Cricket, apparently not being one of them.)
A 2019 Mother’s Day tweet from Lara captures this deep and secure connection, “You were the most amazing mother to come home to every single day. With great news you smiled and reminded me to stay grounded. With sad news you lifted me up to see the bright skies above the heavy clouds.”
In their wonderful parent-child attachment program, The Circle of Security®, family therapists Powell, Cooper, and Hoffman state, “when a child’s emotional cup is full, their curiosity naturally kicks in and out they go to explore”.
An emotional cup filled with safety, comfort, organised feelings, and kind connection, spills over into explorations that build the very child.
Those explorations also sculpt our world.
Eventually, many of those early explorations, as they progress and mature, come to thrill us with, say, sporting and bridge-building genius! And the endless other pursuits that one might imagine.
We talk a lot about children, and each of us, reaching our potential. The explorations themselves become the reaching of our potentials.
Recently, whilst hosting a Women & Leadership Australia development symposium, I heard Rae Johnston, wonderful Aboriginal presenter, dynamo, and tech ‘geek’ (by her words), encourage the group of women ‘if you can do one thing well, celebrate this’. She had been sharing a story about the application of innovative artificial intelligence technologies to saving turtle nests from marauding pigs on Cape York. This is the fine result of someone’s curiosity combined with their one-thing-done-well explorations. It is so well worth celebrating! Filling each other’s emotional security, then, becomes a social responsibility – one that also supports environmental stewardship.
For that same emotional cup of childhood, when full and flowing, continues to water and grow the adult, and the adult’s ongoing explorations.
But mean or careless damming (and damning) of this emotional flow stifles joy in curiosity. That’s not good for any of us. Nor for the social health of our communities, small and large. William Wordsworth reflected on joy stifled:
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.
Fading with it in the light will be healthiness of mind, creativity, and loving for our world and life. We can guard against this. In ourselves and in each other. We can keep safety, comfort, and kind connection flowing into each other’s cups. We can accept, and ask, when our cup needs a top-up. We can organise each other’s feelings. Through being with each other. And time-generous listening. In connection.
Wordsworth went on in ‘Intimations of Immortality’ to reflect, with curiosity, upon wonder:
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
Wonder and simplicity in connection, without rush of time, build bridges. Broad and strong, like the Tasman across timtumili minanya**, these are bridges that span childhood curiosity through to full adult living in the productive years of mid-life and into the dusking years.
Much gazing, knowledge, world building, and many perspectives, are gathered along the way.
And many accomplishments, though great, will nevertheless be felt as smaller than the greatness of simple connection. And sitting under life’s accomplishments, it may be that the shared munching of apples or not talking about cricket (say), will keep us grounded in the great news and lifted to the bright skies in the sad.
And with it all, especially in the challenges of uncertainty, curiosity can be a tender tool, too deep for tears – a tool we can reach within and seize, help each other seize, then use to morph and sculpt our instabilities to comforts, and raise strong spans to new shores.
* The original name of Mt Wellington
** The original name of the Derwent River
A version of this post first appeared in The Mercury’s TasWeekend Magazine on 23/24 October 2021.
Photo credit and gratitude to Nico Smit for sharing his image of the Tasman Bridge and the Cornelian Bay boatsheds on Unsplash.