4 Curious Practices to Deepen Your Relationships

I’m finding many ways to practice Curiosity this year in my relationships. Here are four ideas you might try, too.

1. See how many questions you can ask (meaningful ones!).

I visited several friends in an apartment complex on Monday afternoon, so this was a fun and easy experiment to try as we talked together.

We learn more about our friends and family—and strengthen our relationships—when we ask good questions. Every person (including ourselves) holds great mysteries just waiting to be invited out. Sometimes the only barrier between a stronger connection is the lack of a question.

2. Be a more curious listener.

I tried this out with my Tuesday morning book club (although it’s likely that no one noticed I was trying to listen more than I spoke, lol).

When we intentionally try to be more curious listeners, we can listen as an activity all its own, rather than listening just to kill time until it’s our turn to talk again.

3. Notice what keeps someone’s attention and what loses it.

I tried this on Wednesday as I babysat two young nephews. I noticed that the older nephew could play Candyland for an hour without moving on to something else, while his younger brother only gave it a brief glance, yet focused for a long time on the stack of books we would read together.

We’re all curious about different things. Sometimes we wander away once our curiosity is satisfied (our question is answered, for example), but other times being curious lights a fire about a subject and we’re driven to dig even deeper. Notice when you start boring someone and when they light up.

4. Be curious why people show up where they do.

On Thursday my daughter Jenna and I drove to our state capitol, Montgomery, AL, for an advocacy day for common sense gun laws. It was interesting to talk to others who showed up and hear why they did. The saddest but most powerful stories I heard were the two moms who told us they had each lost teenage children to random gun violence.

Becoming curious about other people’s motivations allows us a deeper look into their hearts in ways we might not have seen otherwise.

Practicing curiosity in these ways doesn’t require much—just an intention to do it. It’s nothing you have to announce; on the contrary, most people won’t notice you’re doing it, except that maybe they feel more listened to and cared for.


Which of these four could you try today? Share your thoughts in the comments.

More articles on Curiosity


Who Will Need Your Human Touch Today?

My husband Jeff was driving in the dark to his early Saturday morning volunteer job (I was still home in bed). He’d only traveled a couple of miles when an oncoming car flashed their lights at him. Maybe a police officer ahead? A traffic light out? Jeff slowed down.

But he quickly saw the problem.

On the side of the road was a car flipped upside down. Debris and car parts covered the road. And a few more yards ahead? He saw a broken fence, a damaged tree, and eventually a second car. It had slammed through the fence, the tree, and landed in the back of someone’s house.

He pulled his truck over to see if he could help. He saw a woman standing by the car that had run into the house. She was on her phone, frantically talking to someone, telling them about the accident she’d just had. He asked if she was okay, and she said yes. She said no one else had been in her car.

He then walked over to the upside down car. There it looked worse. A woman was laid out flat on the grass. Two other passersby had also stopped and one had called 911.

One of the strangers was rushing back to her own car to grab a blanket; the woman from the accident on the grass was cold.

The second stranger was kneeling on the ground beside the woman, gently talking to her as they awaited an ambulance. She was still alive. Jeff could hear him asking her name, reassuring her she was going to be alright, that people were coming to help her.

So Jeff did what Jeff does. He found a job to do. He started cleaning the debris off the road so no other cars coming along would have more wrecks.

When he came home later that morning and told me the story, I looked for information online about the wreck but found nothing. I wondered if the woman survived. I hoped her injuries had been minimal.

And I thought more about the other two strangers that had stopped to help her: the woman with the blanket and the man with the gentle words. In this age where we so quickly “other” those we don’t know, and fear getting too involved in messy situations, and barely have time to rush from one activity to the next, these people threw all that aside. They saw other human beings in danger, and they stopped to offer whatever help they could.

I like to believe this compassion is our truest human nature. And it’s beautiful when it shows up.

Even if it’s in the simple shape of a blanket from a car and a soothing voice from a stranger. (And a man willing to clean off a dark messy road on an early Saturday morning.)

Who will show up in front of us today in need of a human touch? May our eyes be open, our hands be ready, and our hearts be loving for whatever surprises arise.

Share your thoughts in the comments.


Which of These 3 Conversations Are You Having? Insights from a Doctor’s Office

Getting a Look

I get satisfaction when I see the look pass between them, the young eye doctor and his assistant.

My friend V and I have been sitting in the eye doctor’s exam office for a few minutes already, talking with the doctor and assistant on a Thursday afternoon. They’ve been gently prodding V to open her eyes to cooperate with the exam. She is reluctant.

Then a tornado sweeps in. An older, more gruff eye doctor has stormed into the room. The atmosphere immediately changes. Instead of tenderness and slowness, my friend’s care shifts into a higher gear with the “let’s get this done” attitude of the more hurried doctor.

As the exam winds down, the younger doctor offers his assistance to his elder to finish up the details himself so the older doctor can move on. But his offer is almost rudely rebuffed. The older doctor is clearly demanding his superiority in the room. I notice the younger one cringe a little. Once. Twice.

It is on the third refusal when I see the younger doctor and the assistant exchange the look between each other, as if each is saying, “Gee, why does he have to be so hostile?”

I agree with their unspoken conversation.

Granted, when I go to any doctor, for myself or with someone else, I do want the doctor to be confident about his skills. I want his words and behaviors to indicate his expertise. And I want him to talk and treat me with efficiency and succinctness so I can get in and out as quickly as possible.

But the passing of information isn’t the only conversation I want to have.

3 Types of Conversations

After reading Charles Duhigg’s new book, Supercommunicators: How to Unlock the Secret Language of Connection, I understand a little more clearly what I’d been wanting from the older doctor. And didn’t get.

Duhigg suggests we most often have three types of conversations. Knowing which kind we’re having—or want to have—is the key to its effectiveness.

The three common conversations are:

1. The “What’s this really about?” Conversation
This one is practical. It deals with facts. It is helpful when we need to make a decision and move on.

2. The “How do we feel?” Conversation
When we need to connect on an emotional level, this is the conversation to have. It invites awareness of our emotions, beliefs, and memories.

3. The “Who are we?” Conversation
We tap into a broader, more social mindset with these conversations. These help us acknowledge social differences rather than pretending they don’t exist.

While my primary preference with the eye doctor was to have the “what’s this really about?” conversation, I also needed some “how do we feel?” conversation mixed in.

The news he was giving us was overwhelming, confusing, and a little terrifying. I appreciated receiving the information in a clearcut manner, as if given a menu to choose from, but I also wanted some consideration for the emotional impact involved in making the decision.

I didn’t get it that day.

But I did get something different from the doctor a few days later.

A Different Conversation

It is an early Monday morning, and this time I am sitting with V in a pre-op room, awaiting one of her eye surgeries. The sweet young nurses have already been in to perform their prep work, the anesthesiologist has come and gone after explaining her procedures, and now the older eye doctor jerks back the curtain and blows in.

He talks to V for a minute. He wants to make sure she understands what’s about to happen. Then he pauses. He turns toward me and asks if I have any questions. I don’t.

Yet he still doesn’t walk away. He hesitates a moment longer this second time, and with a soft but serious tone, looks me in the eye, and says, “I will do my best for her.” Another pause. Then he adds, “I can’t guarantee anything, but I want you to know I will do all I can.”

I am surprised. And warmly pleased. This is exactly the “how do we feel?” conversation that I need at this moment. I am grateful.

4 Rules for Conversations

Duhigg writes in Supercommunicators that we are always in a conversation—be it practical, emotional, or social.

To better connect and understand what we and others need, he offers these 4 rules for conversations.

  1. Pay attention to what kind of conversation is occuring.
  2. Share your goals, and ask what others are seeking.
  3. Ask about others’ feelings, and share your own.
  4. Explore if identities are important to this discussion.

It’s not a literal checklist to tick off (although it can be, in the most serious of conversations), but it’s a mindset to facilitate greater communication.

It can mean asking more questions, owning up to our own mistakes and feelings, and being more open about who we are.

Another Opportunity?

On the following Tuesday at V’s follow-up appointment in the doctor’s office, I plan to briefly thank the doctor for the kindness he showed on surgery day. I want him to know his human touch was noticed. It made a difference in a tense moment.

But it is his surly version that shows up again. I can tell he’s in a mad rush. Before I can relay my appreciation for yesterday, I first have to reel him back into the room as he tries to exit—twice—so I can get basic answers about what’s next for V’s care.

This learning conversation is vital, after all.

But he finally succeeds in escaping before I have the opportunity to say thanks, to have the more human conversation I’d envisioned.

It’s a conversation we’ll likely never have now. (I’d rather just give him a look.)

Having the conversations we want doesn’t always come easy. And may not always feel natural. But when they are possible, I hope we can make them happen, unlike my experience.

Connecting with other humans through meaningful conversations—whatever type they are—is always worth our efforts.


Which of the 3 types of conversations do you have most often? I highly recommend Supercommunicators for a more in-depth look at each. You’ll get tips and practical advice you can use immediately.

Share your thoughts in the comments.

My thanks to Netgalley + Random House for
the review copy of Supercommunicators


Is Technology Stealing your Handwriting? Don’t Forget How to Be Personal

From my front door, I watch the mail carrier open my mailbox and slip something inside. I smile. I still like receiving snail mail, even though the odds of it being something good is slim.

I grab the small stack of mail and flip through it. I see today I’ve hit the jackpot: a handwritten envelope with my name on it (even better than an Amazon package?).

I check the return address and don’t recognize it, even though it’s local. I walk inside to open it and see who it’s from.

Technology Is Easier

In this era of mass digital communication, we still value a personal, human touch, maybe more than ever. Receiving a handwritten note can make us feel special, knowing someone on the other side of the note had to intentionally think of us, locate a piece of paper and pen, write a note, put our address on it plus a stamp, and walk to their own mailbox to send it our way.

However, as much as I love receiving these, do I send them? Not often enough. Certainly not as often as I used to. Nowadays it’s much easier to see my friend’s birthday when I’m checking Facebook, type a quick “Happy Birthday, friend!”, add an emoji if we’re close enough for that, and click send.

I don’t have to go to the store, flip through all the birthday cards I do NOT want to buy (you know you’re old if; how about another drink to forget? on and on) to find that perfect card that I do want to buy.

So efficiency for the win, right? But personal relationships? I’m not sure technology is helping our relationships as much as it is dumbing them down (nor is technology helping my eroding penmanship skills).

Set Yourself Up

Perhaps I often overvalue digital because of its immediacy and reach, but it is also easily misinterpreted and can feel impersonal. Handwriting, on the other hand, feels more authentic and unique, but the whole process takes more work and more time.

I’m still looking for the right balance between digital communication and handwritten communication (not to mention the disappearing in-person kind, the gold standard!). Digital and handwritten both have pros and cons, and I don’t want to forsake one for the other.

I don’t need reminders to continue communicating digitally, but perhaps I can create a few nudges for myself to also communicate by hand. A stack of notecards on my desk. A supply of postage stamps. A favorite pen by a pad of post-it notes. It needn’t be extravagant to be personal.

Your Script Is So You

Reminded of handwritten mail I’ve received in the past couple of years, I search for a shoebox tucked under my bed. It’s where I store special notes I want to keep. I reread a sweet birthday card from a longtime friend; a note from a new friend that included a bracelet with my name on it; an anniversary card from an internet friend I’ve never even met in person but who has grown dear to me.

I know each sender before I even see their signature because I recognize their handwriting. All the senders use the same English alphabet to convey their messages, but their personal style of writing is as unique as their content.

I want to continue sending handwritten content also. It’s valuable. It’s intimate. And it’s fading.

Keep Writing One Person at a Time

I finally open the letter from today’s mail. And I am disappointed. It’s not personal after all. It is a mass mailing that used a handwriting font, another piece of junk mail. Marketers are on to us; they use our curiosity for the personal to increase their open rates (supposedly it’s twice as effective).

They may have duped me into opening their mail, even doubling down on technology by including a QR code to lure me in for more information (I didn’t bite).

But I won’t let them buy my humanity. I needed this reminder to lean more into my own handwriting. It’s like no one else’s. Neither is yours.

Of course we’ll continue to write on screens (please!). Keep broadcasting your heartfelt messages online to the world at large. We want to hear them, even if we don’t really know you.

But let’s also use a bit of our valuable time to write individual messages to other real people that we know. One person at a time.

It’s an endearing—and growing more unique—way to connect.


Do you still send handwritten mail? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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6 Books I Recommend—March 2024

“A compelling and delightful practice I’ve developed over the years is to read many books at once. This way, they cross-pollinate and begin to speak to each other.”
– Mark Nepo

Here are 5 nonfiction books + 1 novel I recommend from what I finished reading in March 2024. 

[See previously recommended books here]

NONFICTION

1. Glimmer of Hope
How Tragedy Sparked a Movement
by the Founders of The March for Our Lives

Glimmer of Hope

This is a beautiful but tragic collection of essays written by the high school survivors of their school shooting on Valentine’s Day 2018 in Parkland, Florida. If you have doubts about the next generation, this book will help change your mind. These teens channeled their sadness and anger into productive action. May we adults follow suit and be willing to create legislative change for the schoolkids following them too.

2. The Light We Give
How Sikh Wisdom Can Transform Your Life
by Simran Jeet Singh

The Light We Give

I don’t know much about the Sikh religion. But when I heard Simran Jeet Singh speak at a conference last January about relationships and unity (he said, “When we have a choice between ego and love, always choose love“), I saw several overlaps between Sikhism and other world religions. Simran grew up in Texas and faced bigotry then and now because he wears a turban. His sweet spirit and loving response you’ll find in his book will inspire you to be a better person, regardless of religion.

3. Build the Life You Want
The Art and Science of Getting Happier
by Arthur C. Brooks

Build the Life You Want

I didn’t expect much from this book because the title sounded overpromising. But I was pleasantly surprised! It was full of wise advice about getting happier, such as:

  • Don’t choose happiness as a destination but as a direction.
  • Empathy really can lessen other people’s burdens.
  • Happiness isn’t the absence of unhappiness—you can have both at the same time.

I highly recommend this one!

4. Gunfight
My Battle Against the Industry that Radicalized America
by Ryan Busse

Gunfight

Ryan Busse worked for 30 years as an executive for a gun manufacturer. Until he couldn’t stomach it any longer. He shares his experiences about seeing the industry pivot from guns for hunting animals to guns for hunting humans, and his distaste for it. Very interesting (and troubling) to hear an insider’s perspective.

5. Executing Grace
How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us
by Shane Claiborne

Executing Grace

I attended an online vigil for Kenny Smith on January 25, hoping for a stay of execution. But Alabama executed him anyway using nitrogen hypoxia, a first in American history. Kenny’s final words: “Tonight Alabama causes humanity to take a step backwards. I’m leaving with love, peace and light.” Yes, he was guilty of his crimes. But we still need to ask if we’re adding more crimes with our punishment choices.

Shane Claiborne makes a strong case for abolishing the death penalty in this book, approaching it from every angle. Whether you’re for or against the death penalty, this is a powerful book I’d recommend you read. 

FICTION

6. The Lost for Words Bookshop
by Stephanie Butland

The Lost for Words Bookshop

On a (little bit) lighter note, this novel is about a young woman named Loveday who works in a bookstore in England. She had some serious trauma in her childhood but made peace with it through her sweet job in the bookshop, until her past comes back to haunt her in the present. (I just discovered there is a sequel: Found in a Bookshop.)

WHAT I’M READING NOW

  • Supercommunicators
    How to Unlock the Secret Language of Connection
    by Charles Duhigg
  • Cloistered
    My Years as a Nun
    by Catherine Coldstream
  • Say Good Night to Insomnia
    by Dr. Gregg D. Jacobs
  • Oath and Honor
    A Memoir and a Warning
    by Liz Cheney
  • It Starts with Us
    by Colleen Hoover


What good book have you read lately? Please share in the comments.

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Selma, Surgery, and More: Share 4 Somethings— March 2024

For the 2024 edition of “Share 4 Somethings,” Jennifer asks us to share each month:

  1. Something loved and/or disliked
  2. Something accomplished
  3. Something improved upon and/or that needs improvement
  4. Something noticed

I also share my previous month’s One Second Everyday video . . .

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Something Loved

  • CROSSING THE BRIDGE TOGETHER 

We started at the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church.

Then we marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 3 in Selma, Alabama. It was the 59th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery March for civil rights in 1965.

A lot of crazy things have happened in my state of Alabama. And continue to.

But on this day, it felt incredible to be surrounded by thousands of people who showed up in solidarity to be better humans to each other, not worse.

There were many different organizations represented, including the one I was marching beside, Moms Demand Action.

Vice President Kamala Harris led the march, which also included several surviving foot soldiers from the original march. Much progress has been made in the 59 years since Bloody Sunday, but we still have much more progress to make.

You can watch a short video about the day here:

In Selma, Alabama, the Fight for Justice Marches On

In Selma, Alabama, the Fight for Justice Marches On

 ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Something Accomplished

  • V’S FINAL EYE SURGERY

I mentioned in this post (One More Try to Go Home) that my friend V was having a third surgery on her eyes last week to correct her loss of vision. (The first two surgeries didn’t do it.)

The third surgery has now been accomplished. However, V is still in the dark.

I’m crushed for her.

She doesn’t seem to notice though. She began losing sight (as far as we understand it) a few months ago. The loss was gradual enough that she didn’t mention it. Only on a routine visit to the eye doctor in December to replace her missing glasses did they discover these major complications with her eyes.

The doctors have done all they can. The next step for V may be to learn adaptions to being blind. I’m hoping she will be able to.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Something that Needs Improvement

  • NATO PHONETIC ALPHABET

This may seem random, but in my list of things to memorize this year for my one word of the year Curiosity, I’ve chosen the NATO phonetic alphabet, the most widely used set of words to communicate letters of our alphabet.

When someone spells something to me over the phone using these 26 code words (ex: A as in Alfa), it’s always very helpful.

NATO Phonetic Alphabet

Do you know this alphabet? I’m amazed at how many people do. So why not me, too? I think it will come in handy. And if not? At least I’ve exercised my brain in the learning.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Something Noticed

  • NO MATTER HOW OLD

My oldest surviving aunt died last week at the age of 97. She and my own mother had been best of friends while Mama was alive. My Aunt Jo Dale was a wonderful and inspiring woman. But regardless of how many years she’d lived, her daughter (my cousin) still cried at her death, as did I.

I notice that no matter how many years we have with our loved ones here, we’re still sad to be separated from them.


I also must mention March Madness that is happening now. I was sad to see my Auburn Tigers men’s basketball team lose in the 1st round. I’ve picked UConn as the winner of my bracket. You?

What is something you are loving, accomplishing, improving, or noticing this month?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

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