Like many of my peers who studied international relations or social sciences, we have been taught to dive into books and literature to find meaning and to prove a hypothesis. Throughout that process, we built curiosity and the sense of adventure the written and spoken word can give.
What we have lost though or at least on a personal level. Is that we developed the sense of writing for a critic, always having that turn on mode that someone will criticize our research and that we would have to defend it. We learned to write smart words and package it like it’s going to be sent to the United Nations. Years later, I have discovered what research has subconsciously embedded in me and how I can build a skill out of it. The skill of curiosity which is a muscle that any of us can warm up.
If you are looking to become more curious by stumbling across research, read on. I am referring to research as that romantic definition of the quest of meaning rather than its social sciences definition.
RESEARCH TEACHES TO BUILD AN INQUIRING MIND LEADING TO DEEPER CONVERSATIONS
If you are like me, I hate small talk. The pressure of first-time impressions drains me and when someone starts a conversation about the weather I watch out for the door.
Through research your mind starts to click, you learn how to appreciate people based on culture, history and achievements and to have deeper discussions. Here is how a conversation would look like:
X: Oh hello, my name is Takleab and I come from Ethiopia.
An inquiring mind’s reply: Oh wow, the African continent, you guys make great beans. I have also heard that you drink your coffee with a side of popcorn. Is that true?
That got straight to your heart, right?
RESEARCH MAKES YOU APPRECIATIVE OF PEOPLE AND SILENCES RACISM
Because you are constantly reading about the world and the variety of cultures. You learn to appreciate people based on what they do rather than their stereotypes. When you read a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, about a Latin American family, for example, you meet people continents away and learn to appreciate the width of Earth.
When you select a novel, try to look for international authors so when you fly to that country your brain starts seeing that story as you walk by. This happens to me quite often with Elif Shafak when I roam around Istanbul or with Khalid Hosseini when I see a kite at the beach.
You learn to treat every single data objectively and silence that voice in your head that leads you to become bias to your own hypothesis. It also forces you to become empathetic, when someone drops a racist comment or when your upbringing makes a Freudian slip, your heart reminds you that it’s not cool. People fought slavery, some were cramped into ships, others did not get to try apples for breakfast until this decade. All of this comes from the quest to seek other cultures and understand others' traditions and histories.
RUMORS HAVE TO DIE
Research teaches you to look for facts and if you can’t find them you still hunt for them. They could be out there as oral history, in research labs, or in the hands of industry experts but it never is only based on hearsay. One of the most annoying factors about Covid-19 is how rumors spread and many do on the hands of the educated ones too. This is why the curiosity to fact check that experience is necessary.
I usually read many platforms when I’m curious about a topic. If it's related to world politics or the economy I immediately opt for The Economist because they write articles after thorough fact-checking and it's never about the correspondent/writer or the writer’s popularity.
Next time you get a WhatsApp message or that urge to retweet on twitter, give it that millisecond thought.
IT HELPS YOU BUILD A CONNECTED NARRATIVE
You know that voice in your head that comes up whilst you are reading a novel? That is how it should feel and sound like when you are creating content. Whether it’s an essay or a series of captioned photos on Instagram your content should be musical.
When someone asks a researcher to dive into a topic, they wouldn’t answer that inquiry with here you go: 5 books on X, 10 articles from JSTOR, a hint of interviews with a dash of transcribed recordings. They answer with a big picture, you start drafting content with the receiver in mind and building a complete picture.
You learn to strive for logic and to shape data in a format that excites the reader to finish that piece.
IT HELPS YOU ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
To be curious is to ask questions. Many of them, to yourself, to the world, to the piece of article you are reading. You start to question, not to turn into a pessimist but mostly to find the truth. So, you grow more open to meeting people and trying on different things.
There is an upcoming project the team, and I have been working on with Souq Al Jubail, now to give you a simple example, we were commissioned to make an experience journey for tourists and students of the Souq and to study the patterns of the visitors to shape content that is then turned into educational workshops. All of the content was based on food that we usually eat, but because we never questioned it, all of us went blank. We had to learn about the kinds of local fish and the season of the dates, why did the Bedouins eat more meat than fishermen? Why does certain produce have weird names in the Emirati dialect like olives for guavas or Aliwilam for potatoes?
Because that inquisitive muscle is there and for insufficient documented data, we learned to make sense of oral data by interviewing our fathers and family members then fact-checking them through the repetition of information. We also got our hands dirty and spent a day at the Souq asking the workers about the fish and consumer selections.
What was my point?
Research is that quest for meaning and this is exactly what content development is to me. It is being curious for meaning’s sake. It’s the meaning you give and the meaning you try to extract and package it into education to build experiences for the community, so we can collectively say: wow we are all living on the same planet.
Go on and build that muscle with your next conversation. It’s fine, start off with the sun but then move on to another topic aside from the weather.