Why Compassionate Curiosity is Vital For Discipleship

One of the skills we train people to practice in our coaching is compassionate curiosity about ourselves, God, and others in discipleship.

Cultivating a genuine curiosity at the core of our being is vital if we want to grow and mature as followers of Jesus. Without curiosity, we become rigid ideologues seeking data to confirm our existing biases. Without curiosity, we cannot grow as disciples of Jesus.

I started reflecting on this as I read a recent Twitter thread on the Enneagram. John Starke (a pastor in NYC) describes why he thinks there has been a resurgence of interest in the Enneagram, how it’s been helpful to him, and why he thinks some critiques of the Enneagram miss the point.

Joe Carter (Senior Editor of the Acton Institute and Editor of The Gospel Coalition) replied critically to John’s thread, along the lines of his recent FAQ on the Enneagram, in which he is critical and suspicious of its usefulness for Christians.

A lack of curiosity

What struck me in the dialogue was the lack of genuine curiosity present when someone thinks they have all the evidence.

(Full disclosure: Gravity Leadership trains people to use the Enneagram as a tool for Christian spiritual formation through our Enneagram Workshops.)

I don’t want to get into an argument about the merits or deficiencies of the Enneagram as a tool for spiritual and emotional health. In fact, if what I’m saying about curiosity and genuine willingness to learn is true, I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain if I’m wrong about the Enneagram!

Learning to ask questions

There’s a difference between “defending” and “exploring.” My questions can be interrogating or they can be inquisitive. Here are some inquisitive, curious questions I’m learning to ask:

  • “Can you help me understand?” instead of “No, you’re wrong!”
  • “Why can’t I see what you see? What’s different about my perspective that prevents me from seeing what you see? ” instead of “That’s not true!”
  • “Help me understand [data or experiences] that seem to run counter to what you’re saying?” instead of “If you say this, why did you do that?”

Learning to be wrong

This has been a fundamental shift that has enabled me to be curious: I’ve learned to be OK with being wrong.

In fact, I’ve learned to embrace that

  1. I’m wrong in ways I’m completely unaware of,
  2. Being wrong isn’t the worst thing that could happen to me today, and
  3. I will never discover how wrong I am unless I’m genuinely curious about things I’m ignorant about or biased against.

Repentance has become a friend since I’ve changed my relationship to my need to be right.

Learning to face the anxiety and anger that comes up

But of course when I say “I’ve learned” I mean that I’m still learning. Because it still happens to me: I’m reading an article or scrolling through social media and I find something that I disagree with, and I feel threatened by it.

I feel an immediate gut-level anxiety about it. In the past I’ve ignored the anxiety (fleeing from the feeling), or I’ve trusted the anxiety (fighting the feeling), lashing out at the idea that caused the anxiety in me.

But I’m learning to face that anxiety: just permit it to be there without the need to do something to get rid of it. It goes something like this:

  1. “Ah! Someone on the Internet really doesn’t “get” the Enneagram, and that makes me angry.”
  2. “Hello Anger. I see you in there. It’s OK, you can just be here while we look at this.”
  3. “I wonder why am I so angry about this? What does this person’s critique threaten in me? What’s at stake for me in this?”

Being curious with ourselves

Maybe that sounds cheesy, but we have to learn how to really be with ourselves (all of ourselves), and become curious about ourselves if we’re going to learn how to grow and mature.

Too often I’ve just burned my anxiety or anger in my relationships. I researched, argued, preached, taught, tweeted, wrote – but all of it while pivoting out of anger and anxiety. But this is not living in the love of Christ.

Asking questions, changing my relationship to being wrong, facing my anger and anxiety so that I can learn how to live in love: This is how I’m learning to be genuinely and compassionately curious, about myself and about others.

This work by Gravity Commons is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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  1. Mark Roggensack on August 13, 2018 at 10:32 am

    This article makes me angry…

  2. Ben Sternke on August 13, 2018 at 11:22 am

    lol sounds like a great opportunity to exercise some compassionate curiosity! 😉

  3. Dave Chiolero on August 13, 2018 at 8:38 pm

    Thanks for the article Matt.

  4. Werner on August 15, 2018 at 6:15 am

    Great article Matt.Interesting and important facts in your article.I think to get curious about people,you must have in the first place a good sense of social IQ,and if you haven’t got it,you must learn to get it.It is also important for disciples, to have a living interesting in people and the things happening around them.This was a starting point for me.
    God bless.

  5. Matt Tebbe on August 15, 2018 at 7:46 am

    Hey Dave!
    Glad you liked it. Thanks for reading. 🙂

  6. Matt Tebbe on August 15, 2018 at 7:47 am

    Yes, Werner. I think I agree. We attempt to name and train people to do this in our Gravity Cohorts because it is essential.

    Great thoughts!

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