Who Killed the Cat??

Phyllis Farias
5 min readFeb 25, 2024

A couple of months ago, I was irritated and upset about a message I received on WhatsApp. Basically the message was seeking information that would absolutely turn to gossip and in no way would increase the person’s knowledge, knowledge that would be of no use to her or to anyone else. I sensed a tinge of malice. I didn’t answer the question embedded in the message.

On thinking about the matter, I realized that I was putting on a holier than thou attitude for I have also done the same, and in some way or the other all of us do.

I am sure you are wondering where I am heading to with this vague introduction — Curious?? I just used a couple of strategies for building curiosity, that of being ambiguous and giving just enough information as bait to someone to want to know more.

This blog is about curiosity. And when talking about curiosity — the popular phrase, ‘Curiosity killed the cat’ comes to mind — a phrase that has been passed down through generations warning us of the dangers of being too curious and poking our nose where it does not belong.

On the other hand we have sayings like ‘Curiosity is the mother of all invention.’


‘Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.’Zora Neale Hurston

Curiosity according to research is a basic element of our natures, so much so that most of the time we are not even conscious that we are being curious. We are born with this insatiable appetite for new information and knowledge. We spend a significant amount of time seeking information and consuming it too — talking to each other, face to face or on the phone — (Sometimes in the garb of concern), reading of all kinds — in fact at the base of all our interactions is our need to know.

As someone involved in education and children, I wanted to look at what our educational system does with this innate trait.

Let us look at a story that we have all grown up listening to or reading — ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’. Goldilocks who was exploring the forest, stumbled upon the bears’ house and found the door unlocked. Curiosity got the better of her and she entered. It was curiosity that made her taste the porridge of all the bowls. It was curiosity that made her try out the 3 chairs and 3 beds. And yet, when the story is narrated, I have not found teachers or parents focussing on the curiosity. Attention is shifted to finding the just right one or the moral value of taking permission before entering someone’s house. However, the bears knew better and forgave Goldilocks, understanding it was just a child’s curiosity.

Here is another story — a conversation between Mother Camel and Baby Camel. Baby Camel was lost in thought and Mother Camel asked Baby whether she would like to talk about what was troubling her. She replied with a question — Why do we camels have these thick feet? Mother replied that the feet help them to walk long distances in the hot sand of the desert. Baby Camel then asked about the long eye lashes and the humps on the back. Mother’s answer was to explain that they are desert animals and these features help them live life in the desert comfortably.

Before Baby Camel could ask the next question, Mother Camel said — ‘no more questions, I am very busy.’ Baby Camel however summarized Mother Camel’s answers — We have thick feet, long lashes and humps to help us live our life in the desert, then why in God’s name are we living in a zoo?

Baby Camel was curious and asked appropriate questions. Mother Camel was patient up to a point and then did what many a parent and teacher does — ‘I am busy’ or I have to complete the syllabus.’ A sure way to douse anyone’s curiosity.

Curiosity is a magical lens that lets children see the wonder in the world around them. It turns the ordinary into extraordinary adventures of discovery. And now, to answer the question of whether there are different kinds of curiosity.

Let me share some knowledge from an article by Annelise Jolley titled — ‘Curiosity has Two Faces.’ She shares the research of a team of four people who spent years investigating the role of curiosity in learning, creativity and social connection. The team focussed their research on two kinds of Curiosity — General Interest Curiosity and Deprivation Curiosity.

General Interest Curiosity celebrates a lack of knowledge as an opportunity to gain more knowledge. People who exhibit this trait are motivated to learn for learning’s sake — it is closely linked to Intellectual Humility.

Deprivation Curiosity on the other hand wants an answer to what they believe is a gap in their knowledge. It stems from an aversion to not knowing something and the discomfort of uncertainty. It is linked to Intellectual Arrogance. Such people tend to look for answers without reason and discernment for e.g., accepting fake news.

I think I just found an answer into how a healthy curiosity can turn to unhealthy curiosity — the prying kind, the interfering kind, the gossiping kind? Such people suffer from ‘deprivation curiosity’ and want information on everything even that which does not concern them at all. There is a need to feel ‘one up’ and is therefore linked to intellectual arrogance.

I also believe that our education system is the ‘One answer’ kind — too fact oriented, too rote oriented, too exam oriented thus killing the healthy outcome of enquiry and curiosity, giving way to unhealthy curiosity detrimental to self and others.

Perhaps Marie Curie has it right — ‘Be less curious about People and more curious about Ideas’.

This article will not be complete without some ideas on how to develop a healthy curiosity. Ian Byrd shares three general recipes for creating curiosity.

  1. Information Gaps — are all about purposely hiding some information while making sure that students (others too) know enough to realize that they’re missing the information. Then, if they feel that the missing information is important — curiosity activates.
  2. Ambiguity — When we’re not quite sure about something, curiosity is naturally activated like in a mystery novel.
  3. Discrepancy — This involves a surprising result — something that goes against the pattern. The twist in the plot of a novel or movie.

So we see that curiosity arises from anything that seems to be a mystery.

In conclusion, here is a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt — ‘I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy God mother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.’



Phyllis Farias

Educational Consultant with 2 passions in life: the Child — from toddler to adolescent, and Education — education philosophy and psychology