Curiosity Doesn’t Really Kill Cats; It Makes Them Better Cats: A Lesson For All Of Us

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Today’s thoughts are universal – they can apply to every endeavor we undertake. That’s no reason to pass over them and move on to highly real estate industry-focused ones. Sometimes, we need to look at the forest.

A few weeks ago, we were privileged to be able to hear Elizabeth Blackburn speak. [Use your favorite search engine for the answer.] She was asked what it was that got her to be who she turned out to be. Her answer – “curiosity.” She believed that her most important distinguishing feature was that one trait. Of course there were others, but her curiosity was the one from which all of the others could be derived.

Everything we see, everything we hear, everything we read: these are all learning opportunities. Often, we can learn more from failures and errors than from successes. Yet, in our experience, we are more comfortable relying on our successes than on the errors we and others make. What a difference it would make if we were more curious about why we think, what we think, and why others think what they think.

As we are about to bookend another (calendar) year, Ruminations is reaching to a posting from its beginning (January 16, more precisely). There, we quoted John Stuart Mills, words worth repeating:

If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.


He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion… Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them…he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.

In disregarding that advice, none of us are free from sin. Perhaps it is healthy to us as individuals to believe that we are always “more” right than the person on the other side of a deal. But, that isn’t healthy to the deal. Whether we are acting as a principal or working for a principal, we sell ourselves short when we don’t listen to what our colleague on the other side is saying, when we don’t pay attention to the words she or he writes. If we think our words or solutions are better, then we ought to really, really understand why the other side’s words or solutions are not. We need to be “curious.” That’s not only respectful (and, after all, we are a community), but:

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion.

And, curiosity isn’t only a winning trait when it comes to adversarial situations. It can really elevate all of us, boost our skills, increase our proficiency, make our days more rewarding, even revitalize those of us who are just plain tired of doing the same thing over and over. Curiosity is a mental exercise that can invigorate. When you read words like: “Upon termination, neither party will have any liability or further obligation to the other,” do you think: “How does that differ from neither party having any further liability or obligation to the other?” That’s what curiosity is about – the little things, the curious little ways that words matter.

Ruminations aims to be disquieting. Most weeks, it presents something that conflicts with what many readers thought was a dead letter issue – something they thought they understood well enough to “be the best they can be.” Ruminations is opinionated, but we don’t always hold the best opinion. Ours is often one of many best opinions. Sometimes it is wrong. We know that because opinions once held have been discarded for better ones. More often, our opinions, though thought to be the “best” at one time, turn out to be only “good.”

Sometimes, we write about “facts.” If one lives in today’s political world, it becomes easy to believe there are no facts. But, there are. Our planet is not flat even if the still-existent Flat Earth Society insists otherwise. When someone tells us that “there is a statute to the contrary,” there really might be such a statute. We owe it to OURSELVES to listen and to investigate. The other person already knows what we want to reject. One of our favorite quotations is attributed to the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan when it is said that he said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” Perhaps the industry-standard commercial property insurance policy really does include a waiver of subrogation at no extra cost.

Ruminations is a truly minor source of disquieting information. There are other blog sites, many books and treatises, magazines, professional organizations, and seminar programs out there. Though a few are not, most are extremely informative, professionally valuable, and intellectually rewarding. None of us knows everything there is to be known. As one of our individual resolutions for the upcoming (calendar) year, why not pledge to be curious, to allow ourselves to step back and listen to what others have to say, to observe things around us? Such a pledge will be much easier to achieve than a pledge to lose weight and will pay dividends way beyond the effort it will take to fulfill. Readers can start by asking themselves why we have twice written: (calendar). Were you curious? Was it needed? Is it ever called for?



  1. Peggy Israel says

    One of my life sayings came from Grandpa on The Munsters: “curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back”. Words to live by!

  2. Elliot L. Warm says

    It’s a coincidence that the language you cited as an example requiring curiosity relates to a very situation that I have right now. A tenant was permitted to remain on premises on an agreement that if it vacated on or prior to a particular date it would have no “further liability” under the Lease. Does that mean that the tenant has no liability at all upon vacating, or liability only through the date of vacation? (Does the word “further” imply a time element?) The language that you noted might have steered things in the direction of no liability at all, in view of the absence of the word “further” before the word “liability.” As you so aptly point out week after week, words have consequences, and it’s too bad that some in the political realm, not to mention lawyers, don’t necessarily take that to heart.

  3. It seems to me that the decision to add “calendar” before “year” depends on where it’s used and the context. In a piece such as this, I would immediately think we were talking about a calendar year, since it has kind of a retrospective, end-of-the-year feel. And those “years” I always associate with the calendar. Of course in a lease document it could be necessary because so many companies operate on “fiscal” years – and there is the always controversial “lease year” to contend with. So in the above post, I would say the word “calendar” probably wasn’t totally necessary, but a nice clarification.

    Now, as a way to bring us all some holiday cheer, please weigh in on the punctuation of a line from an old Christmas carol. To comma or not to comma, and if so where, has been the subject of a giant discussion on a proofreading board I’m part of.

    God rest ye Merry Gentlemen. Where does the comma go? Why?

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