Apr 28, 2021

I hadn't thought of that before.

A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk for some young people, grades 6-12. When I finished speaking and the floor was opened for questions, one of the older kids hastened to unmute and say, without a shred of irony, “This is more of a comment than a question. I just…hadn’t thought of that before.” That, in this case, was the phenomenon of curb cuts. Lots of people haven’t really considered curb cuts — they’re relegated to the periphery for many. But the remarkable thing was how eager she was to have an exchange built entirely of: I’ve never considered this idea before now—and I can’t wait to announce it to the whole group.

“More of a comment than a question,” you may know, is the conference-goer’s shorthand for some audience member who can’t quite bring themselves to pose a true query — to place themselves overtly in the learner’s position, to ask the speaker to expand, to fully absorb the wisdom of what’s on offer in the room. I imagine we’ve all done it in some form. But here was this young person who could unselfconsciously experience her discovery as pleasure. My students, just a few years older, find this difficult. When presented with new information, they so often say: I should have thought of this before. Or—I’m threatened by not having thought of this before, and by its possibility of overturning my mental categories. Or—I’ve thought of this before because it’s exactly like [this other idea that’s totally different].

It costs us something to be the beginner. Our minds opt for intellectual ejector seats, taking us away from new ideas. But “I hadn’t thought of that before” is actually the experience of joy trying to reach us.

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