It all started with a little childhood obsession with birds. Young Charles Foster noticed the blackbirds flying around in his backyard and wanted to know all about them—what they ate, where their nests were situated, or what exactly enabled them to fly.
Foster was so fascinated with animals that he grew up to be a veterinarian, still wanting to understand more about how their minds and bodies worked, what made them tick. But even that wasn’t quite enough.
His intense curiosity about the world of wildlife left him with so much more he wanted to know. So Charles Foster decided he’d try to put himself in their own natural habitat. He spent days or even weeks at a time trying to live as different animals. When he wanted to learn more about badgers, he and his son created a 15-foot-long underground tunnel, crawled around on hands and knees, and even ate earthworms—a staple in badger diets. And to be sure to get the full effect, they blindfolded themselves as they scuttled around at night, since badgers have notoriously bad eyesight and are nocturnal creatures, leaving them to depend heavily on their other senses.
Mr. Foster so enjoyed this little exercise that he set out to write a book—Being a Beast—chronicling his experiences. He spent time living as closely as possible to the habitats of other animals, too—catching fish with his teeth while swimming like an otter or rummaging through garbage cans as a fox.
All of this might sound a little crazy to you. It can be hard to imagine why anyone would choose to try to live as a deer or an otter. I’ll admit, eating earthworms just to feel a little closer to the badgers doesn’t sound like a fun experiment to me. Except that Mr. Foster seems to display a desirable trait that likely all of us could stand to adopt a bit more of: curiosity. Particularly, inquisitiveness in the other.
Charles Foster had a lifelong captivation with these animals who lived in such a different world than him, that he longed to know and experience more about their lives. Can you imagine what this world might look like if every one of us similarly put ourselves in the shoes of others we wish to understand better—ones who live or think or believe so very differently from us? If, for no other reason, than to appreciate and respect the value of their very lives.
I’m guessing that’s part of the reason why Jesus chose to purposefully move closer to those who looked or thought or acted so differently from him. Powerfully setting the example that curiosity of the other often leads to understanding. And understanding can so often lead to love and acceptance.
No, I wouldn’t ask you to try to emulate the flight of the birds you see overhead or attempt to scurry through the sewers like your neighborhood raccoon. We’ll leave that to Charles Foster. But, in the days ahead, hone your sense of curiosity about all sorts of living creatures around you. Perhaps you’ll be surprised by what you’ll learn.