As we brainstormed about a birthday gift for my wife this morning, my four year old suggested I “put on my thinking cap” and proceeded to tie an imaginary cap on my head. (Evidently, my thinking cap is a bonnet. Not my first choice, style-wise, and I wonder what that style says about my cognitive ability. But I digress.) She then explained how my particular thinking cap works, pointing out that the red button was for when you don’t want to think (nice to know after all these years that my thinking cap has “features”). “Why would you ever use the red button?” I asked her.
The notion that someone might want to shut off their brain had immediately struck me as a particularly silly brand of pre-school logic. But then it hit me how valuable that red button might be. How many moments of insomnia might be wiped off the board if we had a red button? How many pointless arguments could be avoided if we could push the red button and simply check all that baggage we’ve accumulated throughout the years? How many more moments of pure joy might we experience if we only had a big red button? (Watch a child for a few minutes. They push the big red button all the time – while they run in circles, while they jump in place, while they spin, and spin, and spin.)
The older we get, the more we value complex thought – the product of acquired knowledge. We almost always ignore that baggage though. A lifetime of accumulated blind spots — hard-won biases, environmental blinders (ask anyone in Massachusetts if they thought George W. Bush had a snowball’s chance in hell of a second term, and you’ll understand what I mean by “environmental blinders”), the never-ending sense of obligation that comes with adulthood — muddies our thought process as much as it benefits it.
Knowledge and wisdom are two very different things. And it often seems that we let knowledge stand in the way of wisdom. Occam’s razor says that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. The life of a four year old is one long Occam’s razor. Sure, much of what comes out of their little mouths is nonsense (albeit cute nonsense), but every now and then we ought to hit the red button. There’s some wisdom in those little ones, if only we can get out of our own way to recognize it every now and then.