Before We Were All Experts

About a week or so ago, my daughter had her best friend over for a playdate. While they were dressing Barbies and making secret treasure maps, I hopped on the exercise bike for my daily routine of feet spinning and Xbox playing. As I pedaled and killed monsters, I looked up to see someone standing at the door.

It was the girl’s six year old little brother. Her mom had come to bring her home and took him along for the ride. He was standing wide-eyed at my office door with his mouth hanging open as if he had just seen Halley’s Comet rip through the wall.

Hey, buddy. How are you?

He didn’t say anything but just kept staring past me. I continued my imaginary bicycle journey but his bewildered expression was a bit concerning.

Are you alright, kiddo?

Slowly he raised his arm like Jacob Marley warning of ghosts and pointed towards the television. I had no idea what his issue was but was prepared for anything. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he spoke in a shaky voice.

Are…are you…are you making the game go with your bike?

Yeah. That one completely threw me for a loop. It took a moment before my brain was able to process what he had asked, much less answer. Soon enough, though, I did.

No. I’m just playing the game while I bike. They have nothing to do with each other.

I stopped pedaling to prove my point and most of the astonishment began to drain from his face.

Oh.

But in that brief moment, he lived in a world where this sort of technology existed. Between the time he began staring from the doorway until the time I demonstrated that it could work without my footpower, he had genuinely believed that an XBox Bike Controller was a thing. It wasn’t until he asked that he found out the truth.

expertThat’s something that’s pretty much exclusive to children. I’m not talking about the belief in the astonishing. Adults get that too. It’s the willingness to show others your astonishment and asking questions to get more information that is unique to most kids.

As adults, we don’t have many mouth-hanging-open moments of surprise. Instead, we’re too busy rolling our eyes at magic shows or pretending that we already know every new thing that comes our way.

Sure, grown-ups might be fooled into thinking that the bike is powering the video game. That’s possible, but we would never slowly stumble in as if it were the entrance to Willy Wonka’s Factory and share that shock with the room. Nah. We’d play it cool and show up with a loud declaration of how familiar we are with that technology.

Wow. Look at you. Is this one of them XBikes? I heard about these on Reddit, I think. Jay-Z has one, right?

Wrong. No one has them. But for many grown ups, asking about it would imply that we were something less than omicient and that simply won’t fly. How can you appear smart if you ask questions about things you don’t know? Gotta keep up appearances, right?

Wrong. To me, there’s no greater sign of a person’s intelligence than their willingness to ask questions. When I hear someone of any age say the words “I don’t know what that is”, it makes me realize that everything they talk about with confidence is actually something they have knowledge of. If they can admit, in front of others, they need more information about a subject in order to discuss it, you know that they’re not just making up other facts as they go along.

I once was talking music with someone and mentioned a name I was familiar with.

Yeah, I like that song. I remember hearing it on guitar once by Stan Darvey…

To this, the person replied.

Oh. Yeah. I’ve heard of him.

I paused.

You’ve heard of him?

Yeah.

Really? Because he’s a kid I went to high school with. I think he works for Cablevision now.

Oh.

That was the end of the conversation. It made me question pretty much every opinion this guy had ever told me. Suddenly I didn’t know what had been real and what hadn’t been. It all was because of this dumb moment that would have benefited no one if he pulled it off. It’s like risking all of your credibility for the reward of, well, nothing.

We were all kids once and asking about why the sky is blue or how cars work. Then, one day, someone made you feel dumb for asking something. Maybe kids in school laughed at you for raising your hand with a question they all knew the answer to. Perhaps the boss at your first job rolled his eyes when you didn’t know how to close the cash register. Most likely, it was a collection of little mockery moments that rolled together. One thing is certain for most of us, though. Experiences throughout our lives have conditioned us to stop asking questions when we should.

I’m guilty of it too. I’ve found myself discussing a book I never heard of or a local political issue I know next to nothing about all because I couldn’t say, “I’m not sure what that is.” You want people to think you belong in their world. If you don’t know every fact about every thing in that world, you can often feel inadequate. The irony is that many times when you do take the time to ask someone for more information about a subject, you find out they don’t know much about it either.

The world needs more people who have grown-up confidence in the things they know and youthful desire to question what they don’t. It’s not a shortcoming to lack knowledge in different areas. In fact, we all lack knowledge in different areas. If we’re more honest about what those areas are, we’ll see that we’re not all that different.

Heck, maybe we’ll even learn a few things.

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