I wonder if there’s any better opening to a discussion than this phrase.
It signifies an openness to possibilities.
It implies a willingness to be surprised, to learn, to hear a different viewpoint or see a different perspective.
It’s a link to the experience of awe, the feeling of joy, the innocence of childhood.
I wonder, what have you wondered lately?
As you know, I subscribe to a lot of newsletters. Many of them, like Seth Godin’s and Matthew Dicks’, are usually quick reads that I can keep up with. Others like Nadia Bolz-Weber’s take a bit more time. And then there’s Maria Popova’s The Marginalian (formerly Brain-Pickings) which is a feast, and Lit Hub, which is really a series of links, but reads like a menu of things I just have to explore. On several of these, and particularly these last two, I can get a bit behind. This past weekend, I decided it was time to catch up and clean out.
In Lit Hub I found an essay entitled “Where Does Childhood Wonder Come From – And Why Does it End?” It is an essay from Frank C. Keil’s book Wonder: Childhood and the Lifelong Love of Science. The essay is, in part, an exploration of the reading habits of children vs adults. (Spoiler: Adults don’t read many books about science.) Klein writes to understand where, when, and why children lose this sense of wonder, this quest to understand ‘why’ and ‘how’. He links it to scientific inquiry.
His essay led me to start exploring ‘wonder’. I learned that the idea that Aristotle’s way of framing wonder led to our idea of scientific inquiry – I have a question, let’s find the answer. I also learned that before him Plato had understood wonder as the starting point of wisdom, a “heartswelling of awe and amazement” which sounds more expansive than Aristotle’s search for answers, for certainty.
I found filmmaker Cory Heimann’s TED Talk on the magic of awe and wonder. For him, wonder is the dark and into that comes awe which is light and illumination. “I wonder” becomes the beginning of an opportunity to see what is hidden.
I returned to the Touchstones used by the Center for Courage and Renewal. In the middle of a difficult conversation, “When in doubt, turn to wonder.” is a call to remain open-minded and open-hearted. To know that doubt and disagreement remind us to be open to different ways of understanding the world around us.
One of my recurring answers to staff and students who ask, ‘what do I need to do to have your job?’ is to suggest they develop an insatiable curiosity about their organization. The more we understand the how and why of our organizations, the more effective we are at being part of them, at leading within them. Whether asking how and why gives us definite answers (science) or opens up more questions, being willing to learn is the beginning of wisdom. Being willing to be open to different ways of thinking about and doing our work, is the task of leadership. Being able to say “I wonder what would happen if,” is a way to new ways of being and of doing our work.
When was the last time you said ‘I wonder?” If it’s been a while you might give it a try. When was the last time you wondered how the universe worked? When was the last time you wondered how your organization worked – or do you think you have it all figured out? I wonder what would happen if more of us were willing to wonder?
Links to the resources mentioned here are below.
Links and Resources
(Yes, I got a bit carried away this week.)
The essay from Lit Hub on childhood wonder can be found here:
Cory Heimann’s Ted Talk on magic and wonder:
Jim Haven’s talk at TEDxSeattle on creating purposeful wonder:
Ken Saxon shares how turning toward wonder helps him as a community and business leader:
Thrive Global article about “Why Experiencing Wonder Can Do Wonders for Your Well-Being and Productivity: