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Scott Shigeoka is a fellow at the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, and a lecturer at the University of Texas, Austin. He is also an international speaker and author whose new book is SEEK: How Curiosity Can Transform Your Life and Change the World. Scott combines social science research and real-world experience into practical strategies to bridge cultural differences, build new relationships, and embark on transformative life experiences. Scott joins the podcast to explain the difference between deep curiosity and shallow curiosity, how inward curiosity can be a powerful tool for self-discovery, and what the world may look like if we all became a little more curious.

Tom: Scott, welcome to the show. Can you tell me where you grew up and maybe some of your earliest memories about being curious?

Scott: Sure. I grew up in the islands of Hawaii. I grew up on Oahu in particular, in this small but rich house filled with three generations, my grandparents, parents, my sister, and I, and it was a small house. It was about 700 square feet. So, a lot of people live in a small house. So, I would be outside a lot.

And that’s what cultivated my curiosity at first: just being outside and marveling in the awe of the nature of the world around me, growing up in Hawaii.

I’m so grateful that I had tremendously beautiful nature around me for anyone who’s been there. You know what I’m talking about. And

I was like that kid who would go up to my mom and ask her a hundred thousand questions where she was like, yeah, I was relentlessly curious. And very resourceful, you know, I would like to turn a cardboard box into a spaceship or into a new galactic universe I was always just curious about how to make something out of anything as well.

Tom: Who were a couple of the people who inspired you most growing up in Hawaii?

Scott: my gosh, my family for sure. My grandma comes to mind right now. She was this fierce woman. She would do these super, super long multi mile walks, until her late eighties. I mean, she was such an active human. She worked at a laundromat her whole life basically. And I also had a fish market, and she was just, extremely just loving, you know, I was so lucky that I had a lot of love from my family and the people around me growing up. I think it’s one of the most important things you can do with your children and your family, know, love.

Tom: How did your intellectual interest sharpen through your formal post-secondary, education?

I was a journalism major, and I also studied psychology as well. And I loved people and the way that our minds worked, and I loved, writing about people in our society. So, I was like, great, I’m going to do these two things. And I worked for the scene of paper.

You know, I had a very, traditional journalistic background in college. but I also have this deep understanding of the psychology. And so, I was going super deep in psychology, joining research labs. I taught also psychology classes as an undergrad, which is like a rare thing to do for a lot of universities,

And it was really enlightening to see that we have these complicated brains and bodies that move us through the world and complicate our relationships with one another. And I was obsessed about that. And so, it was a merging of the two. A lot of my journalistic explorations had some kind of psychology component, and I would have these real-life experiences in college, too, that I also wanted to write about. You know, I remember going back home, and my grandma had a severe case of dementia.

But I remember this one moment where her confabulations where she was like, oh, I’m going to go to Japan next week. And. she wasn’t going to go to Japan. she had gone already, but she had mixed it up in her head. And, what I remember realizing in that moment is like when I tried to, show her the photos of, no, look, you already went to Japan, grandma, she got even more frustrated and even more confused and more terrified. And a friend had told me what would happen if you joined her say that she’s going to Japan, be curious, ask her more questions about it. So, I, did that and I was like, oh, what would you do in Japan?

And she was like, “Oh, I would see the cherry blossoms.” And then we had this wonderful conversation together, and she didn’t end up in a place of confusion, frustration, or fear. Instead, she connected to me and lit up.

Sharing that story was an example of how to bring the personal life into the professional because other students have grandparents or parents who are struggling with dementia as well. We can all learn from these kinds of things.

And at the same time, all this emerging science was being aggregated by the Greater Good Science Center, where I was working at the time as a bridging differences fellow. And you know, we thought, oh, there’s probably other like Scots in the world, you know, other Jason’s in the world who need these practices, that comes from the science that will help them to bridge their differences. And maybe their teachers, or maybe there, a nurse or community leader or a business leader or a parent, you know, and they’re struggling to navigate what’s happening at their child’s schools or at their community town halls or whatever it is.

And so, this idea of a playbook came into being, how do we collect, some of the best science-based strategies to bridge differences and put it in this wonderful, playbook that people can use throughout their day? And so, I went out on this journey across the country, made these fascinating relationships and had these really fascinating conversations and tried out some of these psychological practices and found that they really worked to reduce hostility, to increase a sense of intimacy and closeness, to reduce my own anxiety and fear of quote, the other, and to move forward. from what my mentor and friend John Powell calls to move from othering to belonging.

And so, we created this playbook, sent it out to the world. And I think half a million people within the first couple of months downloaded it and started to use it in their life across the country. So, I mean, that was the beginning of a longer journey of, okay, there’s a bear there. People are thirsty for this, and we need to create more resources and create more stories that support them.

Tom: I want to turn to your book now. before we get. into the meat of it. I was curious as I was reading, did you have a particular person or kind of person in mind that you were writing this book to or for? Yeah.

Scott: Seek, how curiosity can transform your life and change the world. It’s like a big idea book about curiosity. How do we exercise this muscle? And how do we take our curiosity even deeper, and honestly, the way that I wrote that book was who is that one person who was like me before I learned many of these, practices who felt like they were struggling, with a lot of the division and the toxic polarization that they were feeling in their lives who were, feeling afraid to speak their mind in fear of being canceled, who struggle to create relationships with the people that they’ve loved, like their family members who they’ve known their entire lives because of differences in who they’re voting for the president, and, I thought about, that one person who like many of us like they go on social media and there’s people blocking each other and warring at each other and they go to their, kids, PTA conference, and it’s just like it’s wherever they go, they feel like they can’t escape it.

And they’re like, I feel, paralyzed. I want to feel like I have some agency here. How do I move through the world, build relationships, and try to understand what’s going on with a huge population of our country that thinks different than me or is different from me and stay connected to them? And I want to look for the good as well in the world, not just what’s going wrong. You know, there are so many of these types of people, but I just envisioned this one person that represented that.

so, yeah. that’s who I wrote it for. And that’s who I think benefits the most from it, for sure.

Tom: I liked how you distinguished between shallow curiosity and deep curiosity. Can you tell us what the difference is between those two things?

Scott: Yeah, so curiosity, the desire to know and to understand things, which is often by the way, thought of as just an intellectual pursuit, something that lives in our head. So, we want to learn about a different topic. So, we listen to podcasts or read books, or we go online and Wikipedia or Google search it.

But you can also bring curiosity from your head down into your heart and have what I call more of a heart centered curiosity. And that heart centered curiosity is about how do you use. This desire to understand as a force for connection. How do you really use us as a force for self-transformation?

Because this is really about the journey of us discovering new things and changing our own mindsets and behaviors and the ways that we interact with each other in the world, rather than trying to change someone else.

When you’re using curiosity to try to change someone else, it’s not real curiosity. I call that predatory curiosity. it is when it looks like it’s curiosity, open ended or asking questions, but there’s some kind of agenda underneath it.

So, this heart centered curiosity, this force for connection and self-care, Transformation lives on a spectrum. So, on one end of the spectrum, you have shallow curiosity and on the other end, you have deep curiosity.

So shallow curiosity is when we ask questions, for instance, that allow us to get just bits of information of who a person is, and we start to form some data points. So, we might say, what’s your name? We might ask. where do you live? what do you do for work? these are the kinds of the typical cocktail questions where you start to learn more about someone. But as you move down the spectrum towards the deep end, deep curiosity is about deep Diving beneath the surface. It’s about really getting to the heart of who someone is. like to say you’re penetrating through the layers of a person to reach their soul. And so, I think that’s powerful. It’s not just about seeing the person and., the bag of meat and bones they are, but it’s about seeing the soul of the person.

And you must take your questions, much deeper So instead of what’s your name, you might ask, what’s the story of your name? Because that starts to give you more understanding of. the relationship to their name, the relationship to the people who named them, do they even know the cultural history of their name that might spark their own curiosity?

Instead of asking, what do you do for work? You might ask, what’s really exciting You right now in your life? what’s really inspiring you right now in your life? What’s giving you all in your life right now? What are you grateful for? Right? Like these kinds of questions that give you more of an understanding, more of a nuance, and more of a complication of who this person is, that’s right in front of you.

And curiosity, is about so much more than just the questions we ask we use all our senses with curiosity. You can go on a curiosity walk for instance and go around the block and just notice all the different things that are around you, name some of the objects. Oh, that’s a bird. That’s my neighbor, Clara, whatever the objects, people, life that’s around you. And in just 10 minutes, what the research has found is that doing, a walk like that, that’s open and that incites your curiosity, reduces a lot of anxiety. It’s even being used in some PTSD, support work, at the VA and other different organizations. So, curiosity in that example is not just the questions we ask, but we can move through the world with curiosity as well.

Tom: I love the story that you talked about deep curiosity and action with a group called Nuns and Nuns. So, for our listeners, nuns, as in the Catholic sisters, N U N S, and nuns, are spiritual but not religious. Can you just briefly describe what this program is all about?

Scott: Yeah, it’s an incredible program that is doing really, really great work around community and land justice. And, it has its origins, with, really building relationships, young millennials who have. a spectrum of spiritual beliefs, wanted to better connect to nuns, to sisters, to women religious. And so, the way that they designed this experience was they were going to spend six months living together in a convent, they were going to eat together, they’re going to sing together, and they were going to learn from one another. And one of the main ways that they’ve learned, from each other or through these salons that they would host.

And one of the salons that they did was a series about the three vows that women religious take. And it was really, really enlightening for both the nuns, the women religious, and the nuns, the spiritual millennials who were living amongst the nuns. And there was one vow that they explored that was like an aha moment for Sarah, who has become a dear friend and is really involved in the nuns and nuns work and is who I profiled for the book.

And she said, we were doing this salon around the vow of chastity and essentially what, she had thought was like, is this about, restricting my womanhood? Is this about, control from an oppressive religious force over my body? but as she sat in relationship and in conversation with all these different women, religious who said,

I feel these things still, it’s just that I’m not acting on them. And these are the reasons why. And what Sarah realized over this conversation was, oh my gosh, the vow of chastity isn’t about control over women’s bodies.

it’s not even about abstinence. it’s about what she calls the derivatization of love. And I just love this so much. The deprivatization of love, this idea that, if we, are able to pull away from this traditional idea of domestic family and our partner and to, move away from that into a new form of identity, which is to be a woman religious. , that gives us so much more capacity to love everyone, including those who, unfortunately didn’t come from families or don’t have those resources or people around them to support them.

And so, she was like, wow, this is a vow that’s fueled by generosity by, a desire to want to support and be in service of others. This isn’t about control or the patriarchy or, any of these other things that, many, many millennials, even like me have thought about these vows out. nuns take. And so, I think this is just a great illustration of we come in with so many assumptions and biases in any kind of conversation, especially if someone holds an identity that we don’t understand, or holds an ideology that we disagree with, right?

We’re like, okay, I know everything I need to know about you because you are Christian, you’re a Republican, you are gay, you’re whatever the identity is. And we treat these identities as this monolithic identity where, you are all the same because you are all gay or you are all the same because you all identify as Christian, but that’s just not true.

And it was so important for the nuns because the average age of, women religious. last I looked was around 80.

and so, they’re in a tradition of wanting to pass on that wisdom and that understanding, and there’s this huge group of millennials and Gen Zer’s who are yearning for spiritual connection, yearning for guidance and have great ideas and they just see a great partnership, with them.

Tom: Yep. You wrote that curiosity could take three different directions. Can you describe what each one is, briefly? Mm

Scott: Yeah. So, like I had mentioned, my, younger life was all about the outward curiosity, the outward direction. How do I get curious about other people and the world around me? That is only one of three directions. The other direction is the inward curiosity that we can have to explore ourselves to understand why are we feeling certain things or when I really look at my relationships or my life, like what does that all mean to me? What is my purpose? What really ticks me off? this is a lot of exploration I do in therapy for instance, it’s my inward curiosity and that made me realize Oh, wow. Like I’m disassociating when I’m asking people all these questions, but being unwilling to reveal parts of who I am, right? And so that inward curiosity is so, so important for learning, for growth, and it’s going to serve your relationships. Then there’s this third direction, which is the beyond. And the beyond direction is how do I get curious? About anything that’s beyond the physical realm. So, for some of us, that’s God, that’s the divine, that’s consciousness.

But for those who maybe don’t have a religious or spiritual leaning, you can still be curious about the beyond because you can be curious about those who have died, who have passed. What was our ancestors like? What, parts of them live in me? You can be curious about seven generations from now, whether you decide to have kids, what is the world that they’re going to inherit? What is the planet that they’re going to inherit, right? That is all the beyond direction. It is seen beyond the physical realm. So, there’s inward, outward, and the beyond. Those are the three directions.

Tom: Where is a good place for someone to begin a journey of curiosity? Mm

Scott: place to begin, especially for those who are wary, is to start with an inward curiosity direction, because then you can strengthen your muscle in a safe container, which is yourself, and to really understand who you are, what you feel, your relationships and that insight and that awareness is going to serve you when you get outwardly curious. I think that some of the dominant cultures don’t remind us to look inward, don’t foster that muscle of inward curiosity. So, this can feel really challenging for people. I think that’s why it is also a good place to start because then you can feel the challenge, but also the grand reward of getting curious. And then maybe start a little bit closer with the people that you know really well and then strengthen the muscle and then go from there because just like you’re actually strengthening your muscle in the gym, you don’t want to start by, bench pressing 300, you know, if you can’t do that or have never done it before, you could injure yourself or injure the people around you, right? So, you want to start small and work your way up.

Tom: Yep. I can imagine when we’re, when we’re on a curiosity journey, even thinking about starting, nervousness and fear might really rise to the forefront. I imagine you’ve experienced that in your road trip. Those feelings jump up to the top. what’s some learned lessons you have about, how to confront those feelings?

Scott: Absolutely. Well, it is normal to feel anxiety and fear, when you’re exploring things like the unknown or what you do not know, or, who you originally see as the other when you’re trying to, get closer to that goal of, belonging and connections. I had those same feelings when I went around the country on my road trip. And the big insight came from a death dealer. A little Arthur who has this beautiful new book that’s out called Briefly Perfectly Human. And I was just, like so in awe listening to her and we become dear friends now. And one of the things that I’ve had a lot of fear and anxiety about just like many, many people is my death, you know, which is going to happen to me and happen to everyone. What she had said is that as a death doula who’s helped many people to die and then also has supported many of the families and loved ones who remain is that their curiosity is so key to that journey of anxiety and fear and so the first thing that she does is she gets really curious towards the person who is dying and she really witnesses them and She holds them in deep observation and, she notices them and even if they’re feeling pain, she validates that even if they’re feeling, , negative emotions, she validates that she doesn’t try to fix anything or change anything. It’s just about being curious and noticing. And the second thing that she does is she really incites the curiosity of the person who is dying. Which seems at first glance, very counterintuitive, like why would you tell someone, especially someone who might be afraid or fearful of death, to get curious about it, to confront it, right? But what she’s learned is that, that actually helps to reduce a lot of the anxiety and a lot of fear when you confront it, when you think about your life that you’ve lived, when you think about how you want to die, when you have those hard conversations or the rich conversations, if you want to, with your loved ones.

And it makes sense when you look at the psychological, work that we do around phobias, right? Like, exposure therapy, you get closer to and meet, what you’re fearful of, and that reduces your fear and anxiety around it. We’ve seen this in intergroup contact theory, where when you feel, fear towards someone who you deem as the other, or a group that You deem as the other, when you have positive exposure or contact with them, it reduces those feelings.

So, you know that curiosity and that connection is a force for you to reduce your own anxiety and your own fear, so I think that’s a great, reminder for us, it’s almost like a mantra. It’s like, okay, I’m feeling fear and anxiety. What do I do? instead of maybe being paralyzed by it, you know, you can be curious, be like, I’m feeling afraid of this person.

Because they have a very different ideological view from mine. If that happens, instead of going into judgment mode and saying, here’s why you’re wrong, which can only heighten, our anger and our feelings of resent and our disconnection instead of judgment come from a place of curiosity and ask them questions.

And the research does show it can reduce hostility, it can increase a sense of closeness and intimacy, and it can reduce those feelings of anxiety and fear.

Tom: Yeah. What are a couple of really, simple, practical questions you can ask someone that will help you see them quickly as an individual and not just as a category.

Scott: Yeah. Instead of getting to the what, I like to get to the why. So instead of asking someone what they believe, like who, what are you voting for? You know, instead of saying what asking why they are the person they are today Who are the people that are important to you that made you who you are today?

what values made you who you are today that you, really hold on to in your life That you share with your family with your children, or what is the vision of the world that you’d like to move towards and why is that important to you?

And then you start to get to the depth of things versus just talking about these high-level abstract, policies that do make an impact on people’s lives. But we can also expand the aperture and talk about this person that is in front of us, their individual lives. We can individuate them. We can nuance who they are. And then you can also find some common ground.

How do we better understand who is this person in front of us? What are their values? What are their stories? Who are the relationships? What emotions are they feeling? And so, you start to find these connection points that start to move you away from seeing each other as the enemy and instead seeing each other as, our common humanity yeah, we disagree on certain things, but maybe there’s ways that we can move forward together.

Tom: What would a more curious world look like on the grand scale?

Oh my gosh, it would be beautiful. It would be magical. it would be so much less, cancel culture. So much less blocking of one another because we had different views. We would never hear the words OK Boomer again. like we see the bright spots in our, Current culture and country already, the bright spots where groups of people across faith are coming together in solidarity, that would continue to happen and grow. We would have classrooms and colleges that are deeply embedded with critical thinking and free speech and, the ability to share and exchange ideas where all students feel safe on campus. I think a lot about the work that the constructive dialogue institute does.

I see a world where we can work together and be in service with one another, by volunteering or bettering our community. That is how we learn about people who are different from us. I see a more curious world with more third spaces where people of all backgrounds and all experiences are coming together and connecting.

It’s a less anxious world, it’s a less fearful world, it’s a world where people are connected to, not just the built environment, but the natural world that’s around us. People are more self-aware, they’re on journeys of healing a curious world it would be so beautiful and, that’s what I’m dedicating my life to because I see it as so, so important to so many of the issues of today.

Tom: Scott, you’ve given me a lot to think about. Thanks so much for talking to me today.

Scott: Thank you so much for having me. This is such a beautiful and complex conversation.