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On being curious

Ece Temelkuran
Ece Temelkuran
Dear Friend,
I am writing to you from Tvornica Kulture. It is a cultural center in Zagreb, and since there are no more public events, they turned the place into a cafe. Right now, I am sitting on the stage. Ha!
All this time, more than five years now, I always looked at this cafe from a distance and somehow did not attempt to go in. The curiosity was not enough, and the possibility of being surprised somehow felt too slim. But here I am, since last week, I have been working at this cafe.
I read all the letters in this café and took bits from them to share on Instagram. It seems many of us want to see what the others are writing, and the bits in the Instagram account are not enough anymore. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up like in the movie ‘Her.’ These letters that have been a whisper in your ear as Hatice Sanrı described them, like the whispering woman in the film and one day if you love the other members of Letters From Now you’ll dump me, just like in the movie, to go away with a different whisperer. That would be ironic yet truly magical, in a way.
Speaking of magic, we’ve been talking about the initial magic of life and the faith in humanity in the last two letters. Şebboy Akkurt (Turkey) wrote something interesting. She says,
I’ve lost my sense of “curiosity.” I lost my curiosity about life itself, people, countries, literature, and art, as I was constantly reading old books and obsessed with old songs and movies. The beauty of curiosity is the possibility of being surprised at the end. And this is a possibility that makes one feel alive. Following this train of thought, maybe I don’t have any faith in humans because I am sure they cannot surprise me anymore.
Years and years ago, I went to see Theodore Zeldin in his house outside Oxford. For those who don’t know him, Zeldin is the author of An Intimate History of Humanity, among many other books. He is a historian, thinker, and retired Oxford University professor. He also happens to have been my mentor for several years. We were preparing a book together- a lengthy dialogue that did not come to be for several reasons. However, while we were having our seven days long conversation at his place on a large sofa, he said something which had stayed with me.
“The antonym of being old (dying) is not being young, but it is being curious.”
Şebboy’s words reminded me of that moment and how I sometimes forced myself to be curious only not to lose all my faith in humanity. Because Şebboy is right, being curious is very much connected to the faith in humanity.
In several letters last week, I noticed Katharine Orton’s words on faith in humanity were embraced by many of us. “I can’t expect humankind to somehow prove itself to me. It has to start with me”, she writes. Now her words connect with the idea of curiosity and faith in my thinking. So, the question transforms into something else.
How can we expect to believe in humanity if we are not curious enough about humans?
After all, here I am, writing this letter to you from a café that I discovered only because I finally was curious enough.
Christina Diana Bargu, who apparently was curious enough adds to this argument a historical fundament:
“Reading “Humankind” by Rutger Bregman, one year ago, I got impressed by the effort some social scientists put into representing human beings as naturally prone to obey, to be cruel, to not care about the other’s lives (for ex. Maslow experiments, or the story of Kitty Genovese). To me, having faith in humankind is recognizing that the hell we created and that we’re still creating is just one horrible outcome, among the many possible ones.
And as believing that humans are inherently bad has an effect - it can hypnotize, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy - having faith in humans, in the infinite range of societies and ways to live together we can practice, has a generative power. So yes, I have faith in us.”
After reading Christina’s letter, I thought that maybe humanity is performing for us already, but we have not been curious enough.
Since last week, I’ve been reading The Dawn of Everything by David Wengrow and David Graeber. Read this book when you can. The book tears apart our understanding of human history by proving that humans did what they could to make us believe in our kind throughout time. It is just the damaged story of our kind that was told to us had been a big lie. The book is a sister to Together. What I am suggesting in Together is proven by scientific facts in this extensive research. So, my question for this week is this: Do we know enough about humanity? Is it possible that the lack of faith in humankind is because we don’t know enough about history? Or a better question; are you curious enough to overcome your fear of disappointment? After all, surprises come to us only when we are curious enough. What do you think?
Yours truly,
Ece
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Ece Temelkuran
Ece Temelkuran @LettersFromEce

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