Curiosity is the Currency of the Future

03/14/2017 11:05 am ET
Louvre Abu Dhabi

If we are not able to ask skeptical questions, to interrogate those who tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those in authority, then we are up for grabs for the next charlatan —political or religious —who come ambling along. —Carl Sagan

If we in the Arab World seek to physically go to the moon by 2020, let us intellectually bring ourselves to our communities in the 21st Century.

In a time of saturated media, we interact face-to-face much less. We are physically engaging less because we are exposed to so much more information and ideas in the palms of our hands. The result of this is Solitary confinement of thought amongst ourselves.

In a report published in February 2017 from The Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government in Dubai, 64% of social media users are under 30 years old. There are 156 million Facebook Users in the Middle East, which is an increase in 41 million since last year. 58% use social media to express sentiments on government relations. And the Arab World generates 27 million tweets per day. Our region is plugged in. To me it is alarming that our main refuge for thought conversation is online in a foreign domain.

Massive Media absorption in the Twenty-First Century cannot benefit nations in a region where social stigma barricades thought and dialogue to the point we are not able to question our practices, and so thus we are unable to adapt smoothly. This has been a chief weakness of ours in the past, but recently the regional leaders have been taking steps forward. If we are to utilize the information coming from our gadgets, information that challenges our preconceived ideas, then we ought to take this into dialogue to our own communities.

An Alien Shows Up on Earth: Globalization

As I understand, there is nothing in Islam or amongst Arabs that clash with civilizations. At large I disagree with Clash of Civilizations, rather the clash is in lifestyle changes; the community and the globalized. Before advancements in transportation and technology that lead to globalization, universally, communities clung to ideologies and developed norms in their respected communities to better communicate with each other. Being surrounded by those like you for so long has an affect on your understanding of others and reality becomes constant.

The communities in and related to the Middle East are dominated by Islam. Islam was never the driver of conflict, rather a universal community clash with an alien new way of life was; that alien is globalization. Communities were unable to be profoundly curious because those surrounding were like them, curiosity was never in the front-lines because in group thinking it intimidates individual thought.

Where the collective overplays the individual, if the individuals are submissive and sacrifice challenging philosophy and social norms, then what you have is a body that repeats and imposes one outlook. Who ever proved one large group with a singular view produced success?

Lived experience was much more similar amongst our communities in the 20th Century, than the 21st Century. This happens in the United States, London, and around the world, and in this speaking case, in many communities throughout the Arab World.

The ideology that consumed us was religion. Islam dominates the Arab World. We did not have space to be curious, not because the religion, but because a body of land that may have been united but was separated in small communities. We in the United States can testify to this similar landscape. We are all united, however there is a sprinkling of various pacts and communities in the United States with different lived experiences --both positive and negative -- traditions, religious, economic and social conditions. In the United States we have Mormons, Native Americans, The Amish, Quakers, Conservatives, Cosmopolitan, and so forth, factions that can relate to the Middle East in regards to having a number of communities separated from each other, and each other’s reality. The 20th Century for a large part of the world was man and his immediate neighbor. Not man and his neighbor overseas and his neighbor of a different practice, the 20th Century man did not have this luxury in exposure.

The natural instinct of a community man being catapulted into a world of tens of religions, thousands of philosophies, new faces, experiences, and social norms --any man would struggle with making sense of it all in such a quick pace of time. When one felt challenged he clenched harder and intensified his community norms and ideology as a means of identity.

The aliens have landed; all of us to each other. Globalization has come down and the confrontation and antagonism has passed. Now how do we deal with one another?

The Middle East:

Well, we must pinpoint an element that was missing for some time, that is diversity in thought, and instead of feeling challenged by other views we must embrace curiosity.

It is hard for any system to introduce new ways of thinking and to challenge our civilians lived experiences in religion and norms. We are at a crossroads where the 21st-Century has us raced against the clock. It is a challenge to make this understood by those living in the 20th-Century still, those without experience of others, those who meet aliens (the global currents) only for moments, those who are not exposed to others, those who camp themselves in a comfortable small circle.

The aforementioned are normal, but what is not is the affect it has on those who merged with globalization. There are millions of us, leaders of the greatest governments in the Arab World, to artists, pilots, scholars, and international businessmen who share a thought of a shared global world. The problem is that the series of small circles confined to themselves has amounted in a fair body that surrounds ‘the curious’ which pressurizes and stigmatizes dialogue.

One does not have to sacrifice his faith, customs and national identity to be a participant in global dialogue.

Imagine, how can one feel imaginative and thoughtful if he is surrounded by a roundtable of men and women with crossed arms, rolled eyes, or unbothered expressions.

Curiosity entails reflection, wonder, a series of questions, and debate. Debate leads to new topics that we stored away in a box of taboo initially when the aliens -- globalization --came down. To question yourself was to lose ground to the aliens (globalization). The fact is globalization is beautiful if we take it to be, otherwise like radical others we will forever live in a world dissatisfied with anyone who opposes our reality.

Reengaging Our Neighborhood

After the initial rejection of globalization, once warmed up our focus in the Arab World became reaching for those around us, collecting new cultures and people, having them understand our story, but we have neglected our own backyard in the seduction of globalization.

When engaging with ideas, we must not neglect to engage with these ideas in our own communities.

How can one test a theory or current that is affecting everyone in the globe, if he does not discuss or test it amongst his own community? If curiosity does not reach farther than our individual selves, than it does not help anyone but hinders.

Solitaire confinement of curiosity prevents us from manifesting and experiencing face to face dialogue, instead we are forced to engage in an arms race of social media accounts to engage with everyone but our own. Our sense of wonder has barriers in our own community.

If the Arab youth, all and over, 100 million of them have access to a wealth of information, elevating them to access the same information as those in skyscrapers in New York and institutions in Singapore, would not it make sense that these conversations are taken to real time in the Arab World.

Taboo topics are known by most youth in the region, whether we acknowledge this or not. The problem is that taboo topics are not being discussed because there is this morbid gray area of what is culture and what is religion that has bled amongst each other. This has caused a fair amount of people to believe religion prevents topics from being discussed, when the reality is that a social norm —group mentality and community lifestyle — is the causal, not faith.

Omar Saif Ghobash, Author of Letters to a Young Muslim is leading the discussion of the human practice of faith and modernity. Ghobash who appeared on The Charlie Rose Show spoke on the topic of taboos in his conversation: “All of these taboos are choices we all have made; our societies make these choices. We need to begin to legitimize the vast population that lives in fear of discussing their own issues.”

The region is no longer community living, and each member in society are growing further unique and diverse in lived experience in the Arab World.

The coexistence of individual access to taboo topics and the controversy of discussing taboo topics in society has led to a lack in dialogue in issues we are all thinking about.

We are handicapping ourselves from experiencing universal developing issues in our societies, that we will be unable to advance in thought. We are doing our own nations an injustice by letting our civilians minds feel more welcomed in other communities, too distant from our own.

Curiosity as Integral to Security:

The global community is important, however lest we not forget our community closest to us; our own neighborhood. If we do not engage with our community in thought, we will not be able to channel what the civilians need; anticipate their intentions for the benefit of serving and securing them.

Speaking with Becki Saltzman Author of Living Curiously: How to Use Curiosity to be Remarkable and Do Good Stuff, she shared with me, “Curiosity is like a muscle. Flex and use it, and it’s there for you when you need it. Neglect it and it atrophies and locks you into your comfort zone of certainty where you expose yourself to the dangerous risk of being blindsided.”

Curiosity in the upper tiers of our systems and governments would enable our countries to not be blindsided by other countries, ideas, and global currents. We should never be too certain. Curiosity needs to be ingrained in our young leaders so we prepare for the future. By allowing your system to be challenged, you enable it to be innovated and fortified with greater practices. Innovation and modification make for the best technology, and certainly the best governments. No need to overhaul the system if we reengage curiosity and revision of our past ways.

If the Arab World wants to be innovative, then they must accept the culture that not everything we are doing now is the best way --we must elevate curiosity personally, socially and publicly.

The best deal in the Middle East is not being made, that is using a free currency that has a return of monetary and human capital; curiosity.

The currency of the future is curiosity. If we incubate entrepreneurs in accelerators, why can we not incubate thought leaders in a space of tolerance and intellect?

Implementing Curiosity

We have kept our borders bold, secured, and tight, but have we kept the minds of our youth in these borders?

One step in implementing curiosity is to read more with a follow up discussion. We need to read more and take the words on paper into the air, something that I admire when I see international book fairs take place with speaking engagements, in Jeddah, Cairo, Sharjah, and a long list of other cities.

Thought leaders are increasing in the Arab World, however, some who wish to be published dance around critical thoughts that could prevent their book from being contracted or have them at a lectured event. The good stuff works of art are made of are often suppressed by the individual and unwelcome by the consumer because they are not in public demand.

Let us ask ourselves, why are some of our most creative talents based in London and New York, why have they found better solace there than our own community? We should not have talents renouncing their creative aptitude and moving base to London and New York in better solace, whilst we sit in our country, their home country, and admire the minds we pressured out from afar. This only leaves us, who pushed them out, high and dry. We lose in the end.

We cannot dance around topics for a sustained time, unless we would like to forfeit our seat at tables that design the future and participation in universal conversations.

At the end of the day, curiosity leads to a seat at the table. Public open discussion is best, but if we fear that society is not up to speed with the requirements to advance our society in thought—then the next step forward may be to entrust a thought leader in both governments and communities to begin establishing private clubs to incubate ideas with a diversity of both locals and foreigners who consent to having their mind explored, challenged, and grown, and to discuss global currents and taboo topics with a collection of people who represent different walks of life in our community.

By policymakers not engaging with their community, they are leaving themselves out of Twenty-First Century discussions. It is better to be part of the conversation, than one day to be blindsided by your own or the world around you. As an American, I would enjoy to see our counterparts in the region engage on more discussions with us to fill gaps of understanding. I would love for the Arab World to hold onto the minds of their talented curious youth, and tease the world with what you have they offer us, rather then handing others their most creative minds by way of you pressurizing them out. Many governments and entities are making great progress but still more is to be done. The significance of this composition is to truly highlight the magnitude of ‘curiosity’.

Curiosity at large should be a positive experience growing up, not one scolded. We should not grow children to be intimidated by curiosity and its forms, for after all, it is a positive experience with curiosity that has enabled us to begin to map our way to Mars.

If the Arab World seeks to be tolerant, innovative, vibrant, responsive, and a participant in global conversations, curiosity must appreciate in value amongst us because it is demanded by all entities in a country both government and civilians, not because the weakening supply of it.

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