I am reading the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio to my 9-year-old son. Although Isaac is a great reader, he doesn’t love to read like I do or like his sister does. He’s more like his father – he wants to read in order to learn how to do something or for a purpose. Works of fiction seldom impress him. Yet with Wonder, he is hooked. He pays attention to every word. He stops and asks me to clarify something he doesn’t fully understand. He loves Auggie, the main character, and emotionally reacts when Auggie struggles. I see a sense of awe in my son which show the same qualities of wonder I feel are vital to learning and leadership.
What exactly is wonder? According to Webster’s, as a noun, wonder is “a cause of astonishment or admiration,” and “rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience”. As a verb, wonder means “to feel surprise, curiosity or doubt.” I remember the wonder I felt as a child, breathing in the sea air or looking out from the top of a mountain, the magic of Christmas morning, and the awe I felt when I saw my first shooting star. This sense of amazement resonates in songs we sing, nature we witness, and moments that change us.
As children, we seek to understand, as we yearn for experiences which allow us to grow. We want to visit places, go to concerts, meet new people , and explore our world. And, through these interactions we continue to experience wonder. Wonder requires an inherent understanding that we simply don’t have the answers, yet do have the curiosity to ask the questions.
At some point as we transition from child to young adult, we acquire the experiences to help us develop our beliefs. Often, as we gain confidence in our beliefs, our sense of wonder starts to diminish, and not as a result of beliefs but as a result of growing up. As we become adults, the sense of wonder so easily found as children becomes more challenging to find. With careers and families, we get busy, stressed, and consumed with the exact topics mentioned in this blog in earlier posts. Our own energy and intuition, our space and balance, our ability to focus – all are real issues we face. All also get in the way of wonder at times. Stress blocks wonder. The idea of chores, doing the things we don’t enjoy, frustrations, irritations, and fears, cloud our ability to see the wonder around us.
According to a study published in Psychological Science, those who experienced wonder and awe actually had more time to spend with others, were less impatient, and experienced greater life satisfaction. Stanford Professor Jennifer Aaker, one of the study’s authors, said, “When you feel awe, you are experiencing a positive emotion that feels vast and big, and as a result is capable of altering one’s view of the world” (Psychological Science. 2012, Vol. 23, Issue 10, Pages 1130-1136). Another finding of the study was that participants who experienced more awe were more interested in experiences than material items because more moments of wonder created more moments in the present.
Wonder is a skill. Research shows that educators have great impact on revealing and cultivating wonder in students. Wonder is more than just curiosity – it is an actual experience. “Curiosity implies the realization that there is some particular thing one does not yet know, but it doesn’t foreground the question of the general extent of one’s current knowledge (or ignorance) the way wonder does,” states author Anders Schinkel. Schinkel goes on to explain that there are two different types of wonder – active wonder(ing), which entails a drive to explore, to find out, to explain; and deep or contemplative wonder, which is not inherently inquisitive like active wonder and, as a response to mystery, may leave us at a loss for words.
To harness wonder in our daily lives is a mindset – a perspective that as leaders, and as learners, we must be able to tap into in order to remain free from limiting beliefs. To maintain the skill to “think outside the box” we need wonder. Thrive Global, a company created by Arianna Huffington, sole’s purpose is to “help individuals, companies, and communities to improve their well-being and performance and unlock their greatest potential. An article published July 2018 by Thrive Global Staff claims that “no matter what profession you’re in, there are steps you can take to connect with that larger sense, and in doing so enable yourself to find more success and satisfaction.” They even provide steps to tap into a sense of wonder, including making time to go outdoors and visiting museums for inspiration.
Wonder cultivates a feeling of amazement. It resonates with gratitude, awe and humility. As humans, when we feel a true sense of wonder, we learn on an emotional level. Because we are emotional beings, feeling wonder allows us to change easier than knowledge alone will. As Dr. Suess said, “Think and wonder, wonder and think,” and according to Socrates, “Wisdom begins in wonder.”
For me, I believe wonder is as much a state of mind as gratitude. During my morning meditation lately, I’ve been thinking about wonder. I’ve tried to seek wonder and gratitude each day. It needs to go beyond our quiet time in the morning. As we go about our days, we interact with many students and teachers. Before an encounter, ask yourself to look for wonder. Can you find it? Any time I look for wonder, I almost always find it. The key is to remember to look for it in the first place. It could be as simple as someone’s smile or an unanticipated connection. Wonder can be found in moments when you learn something new about someone you’ve known for awhile.
As a leader, how do you continue to invite wonder into your life to inspire your learning? Join me next week as we explore how our beliefs impact our ability to wonder. As we begin this week, let’s try to allow ourselves to ask the curious questions that can spark wonder and perhaps allow us to lead that way, too.