Scott Shigeoka takes readers on a journey to understanding curiosity, arguing that if we can learn to better harness it, it can change the world.
As Porchlight's Creative Director Gabbi Cisneros writes:
Reading Seek will help you understand why and practice how to harness deep curiosity: intentionally, carefully, and compassionately. Seek straddles multiple sides of the business book genre—fittingly so, since the book’s main mission is for us to look at and understand our world and each other from as many perspectives as possible in order to be the most empathetic, self-aware, productive, creative, helpful, and, ultimately, happy humans we can be.
In the following excerpt, author Scott Shigeoka describes what inspired him to start off on his journey to expand his worldview and connect with those on the “other side.”
When I quit my job at a design firm, everyone told me I was out of my mind.
I wasn’t darting off to national parks to “find myself” in nature. I wasn’t transitioning to a digital-nomad lifestyle, working beachside or against the backdrop of mountains. Instead, I was leaving my cushy life in San Francisco to spend twelve months on the road, living out of my car, showering at Planet Fitness, and meeting people I’d never normally encounter as a city-dwelling liberal Asian American spiritually queer professor and researcher from Hawai‘i (whew, that’s a mouthful).
Friends told me if I carried out my plans, I’d be targeted with violence or emotional attacks—one said I’d probably get shot. After all, I knew few conservatives or Donald Trump voters; I didn’t have many people in my life who were significantly older or younger than me, outside of my family; I hadn’t met people in rural towns or Indian country; and, although I’d read in the news about people working at farms and factories, I had never connected with anyone who had those occupations.
Instead of wandering aimlessly, I decided to do some prep work to sketch out a route. I had my sights set on a small town in Alabama, an Indigenous reservation in Minnesota, a retreat center where nuns and millennials live together, and a cohort of small business owners in Arkansas. I even planned to cross “enemy lines” to a Trump rally and a Republican meetup, and to have conversations with faith leaders, including one of the country’s most prominent Christian pastors.
Upon hearing about my proposed travels, my friends and family would look at my itinerary, and then they’d look at me. They all ask the same question: Why are you doing this? They were still worried about my safety. But some also told me that going on this trip to meet people on the “other side” would cause harm to people like “us”— progressives, people of color, young folks, and the like.
“Those kinds of people hate us,” one friend said. He encouraged me to pack a knife and pepper spray for protection.
Oddly enough, it was an overwhelming amount of hate that made me pack up my decade-old Prius to the brim (California cliché, I know) and set off on a cross-country road trip in 2019. I wanted to feel less scared and angry all the time. I’ve always lived by the motto “Be driven by love,” and this was a chance to push back on the hate that had seemingly infected the very air we breathed—poisoned by the culture of divisiveness and polarization, of “us versus them,” of disconnection and loneliness. This was a time when our relationships and social fabric were being ripped apart.
It still feels this way today: neighbors screaming at each other at town halls; parents at war at public school hearings; and young people yelling “OK boomer” to elders. In one town, a faith congregation plunges into turmoil after a member comes out as gay; in another, a church and mosque are burned down by arsonists. College campuses and city streets have erupted with identity-based violence, which has been on the rise each year.
The result of all this isn’t just discord and deep sadness on a collective level—it affects us all on a deeply personal one as well. You can’t breathe toxic air like this and not feel it in your own lungs and heart. Friendships and marriages are imploding, family reunions are tense, and a recent study found that one in ten Americans do not have a single close friend. As a country, we are unwilling to look at each other, or even at ourselves, with the kind of compassion and thoughtfulness that would move us toward connection as well as forward in progress. And this isn’t something that afflicts only the United States; these kinds of issues span the entire globe.
I admit I had a personal stake in the journey too. Before the trip, I was researching how to transform our lives for the better at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. There, I was compiling research-based strategies that could strengthen our relationships, especially across our differences. This road trip felt like the ultimate field test to put that research into practice. Personally, I still struggled to connect with people who were different from me—erupting into circular arguments or blocking people on social media indefinitely because I disagreed with their views. I felt my critical thinking skills dwindling, falling back on asking more rote questions rather than deep and interesting ones.
While embarking on this journey filled me with fear, there was something far more powerful that kept me going. It didn’t just fuel me—it challenged me to change into a better version of myself. It helped me to make new connections, strengthen old ones, and feel more satisfied and happier with my life. I found a new sense of purpose, felt more creative, and saw possibility in the future, where I’d previously seen despair.
I noticed that this same special sauce that helped me on the road shifted the lives of the many people I met too. It gave Consuelo, a small business owner in Arkansas, the insights and wealth she needed to escape an abusive relationship. It helped Sheila and Glenn, two people who were campaigning in opposition of each other for same-sex marriage legislation, to forge a more collective understanding on a hot-button issue. It brought a group of younger and older spiritual seekers together to nurture a path of friendship.
What was powering all of this connection and transformation was something very special, but also deeply human. Something that is inside all of us from the time we are born. I reckon that if we can learn how to better harness it, our lives will get better, and it might even change the world:
Excerpted from Seek: How Curiosity Can Transform Your Life and Change the World. Copyright © 2023 by Scott Shigeoka. All rights reserved by Scott Shigeoka. Copyright © 2023 by Scott Shigeoka. Reprinted with permission of Balance Publishing, an imprint of Hachette Book Group. All rights reserved.