As I sat at work today and supervised one of my students in a task he nearly has mastered, my mind wandered a bit. I started mulling over something that I started chewing on oh probably about 15 years ago. That makes it sound big and dramatic, but really it matters very little. I just happen to enjoy curiosity. Anyway, I thought before about an internet search, but honestly, I wasn’t entirely sure how to look this particular thing up. Today, I finally figured it out. My curiosity satisfied, I felt more than a little proud of myself. Have you ever experienced that? Have you ever wondered about something for a very long time and finally found the answer? It’s a great feeling, isn’t it?
That curiosity is, well, a curious thing. It really influences quite a bit of our lives, even in subtle ways such as something one of my students recently heard about. Someone mentioned to him Pandora’s Box. Since he never heard of it before, I encouraged him to research the myth until he could recount the story to me without help. In the process, I learned a LOT about the myth myself. (That’s one of the great things about teaching; the teacher often learns as much if not more than the students. And I do love to learn.)
A little insight into mythology before we look specifically at Pandora’s Box… Typically, myths come from the human attempt to explain things that seem to have no logical explanation. Some of these myths actually have an easy, physical explanation that the people who first told the stories could not have known because they didn’t have our technology and understanding (thunder, for example). Others really must have supernatural explanations (creation, for one). I enjoy reading myths because of the insight they give into how people throughout the world and centuries have thought and, often, why they behaved in certain ways.
For example, many cultures believe that a specific deity controls rain, so they do whatever they think makes that deity happy so he/she will send rain. This need to please their god(s) permeates much of how they act. We, as outsiders, may think this behavior odd, but if we understand where it originates, we can respond far more appropriately.
Ok, now that you know a bit about mythology, let me explain what I found particularly interesting about Pandora’s Box. Because the myth originated in ancient Greece, there are some variations on the story and we aren’t entirely sure which one was the original. For one thing, we don’t speak ancient Greek. For another, there are differences in the manuscripts. That being said, there seems to be some consistency that prior to Pandora’s birth (or creation, depending on the version you read), humanity was pretty innocent and happy because their minds weren’t filled with questions. Pandora was gifted (or cursed) with curiosity by the Greek gods. This curiosity made her explore the world with wonder and for a time seemed a true gift, but as she looked at the forbidden box also given to her, the curiosity started to nag at her. Eventually, she gave in and opened the box, which let loose all manner of evil things. Hope also came in the box and Pandora released her as well after realizing the need for something good to come even in the midst of her undoing.
You have probably heard some variation of this story before. Pandora’s box made its way into our cliches long ago, so it seems old hat. I never before knew, though, that the Greeks explained the origin of curiosity with Pandora and the gifts (or curses) she received. This intrigued me, especially in connection with the thought that prior to the entrance of curiosity into the world, humanity was completely innocent. One of the implications of the story being that curiosity is incongruous with innocence.
In a sense, I understand where that thought might ring true. Curiosity, especially in cases like Pandora, might drive us to the point of a decision we ought not make. Pandora first looked at the box; no big deal, it’s just a box. But then curiosity came into play; why was it forbidden? She looked longer and more closely until finally she could resist no more and opened the box. How often is that true of us? We know something is wrong or forbidden or dangerous, but we want to know more and we follow that curiosity to our doom.
On the other hand, curiosity drives our learning. Watch a toddler for a few minutes and see curiosity in its full glory. We love the light in a child’s eyes that tells us they wonder about something. We (should) encourage it because it allows them to learn and to grow and to be more than they are. If a child failed to show any curiosity for the world around her, she would worry us. She would forever remain stuck as a child. This would no longer be innocence but stagnation.
Curiosity does not necessarily destroy innocence, though at times it might lead to the uncovering of something harmful to a person’s innocence. But I really believe that the most curious among us maintain a healthy child-likeness that allows us to forever explore the universe around us. And it does mean pushing the envelope sometimes into what may destroy us but also might make us better than before. So many of our scientific advancements take place because someone wonders what will happen if they keep pushing. Often, they delve into potentially dangerous territory, but much of the time, their childlike wonder at all that may yet be discovered gives them a resilience to failure that a lack of curiosity just wouldn’t give.
This is not meant to advocate foolhardiness, though. God gave us minds and He gave us senses that allow us to recognize danger. Pandora wrongly opened the box. We know there are things we just shouldn’t do, but as a dear friend of mine used to say: If it’s legal and moral, go for it. In other words, if there is no law against it and no biblical reason not to go for it, then go ahead and try it. We must be careful not to give ourselves license to do something harmful, but we also must not be afraid to try something just because it might involve a little risk. The mythological Pandora failed miserably as she let evil out of her box, yet with that also came hope. When we do screw up, God is still able to turn it around for His glory. Again, not license to do as we please, but a reminder that we are not big enough to wreck God’s plans.