naivete versus caution

Another one of the tensions I have been thinking about lately revolves around the pros and cons of approaching a situation with naivete versus approaching the same situation with a degree of caution. I think there’s probably a phrase – or there should be a phrase at least – for talking about the benefits of doing things with that naive mind.

So much of society revolves around the status quo. We give people who have experience de facto authority and responsibility. We look up to elders, just because they are more experienced. This may be a good default. I am not sure the better default necessarily.

But I think we are underestimating the wisdom and benefits of naivete.

We talk a lot about the recklessness of the youth. The stupidity of when we were younger. And less experienced. And didn’t know what to do or how to spend our time.

We underestimate the value of the naivete. That 3 year old. Who can just magically live in the moment.

Do you know how hard it would be for you to do that today? To replicate that same naive sense of curiosity you once had?

But we do not really appreciate that. I say we. I mean I. I do not. I think about progress generally on this linear time horizon. More experience meaning more wisdom. This feels like only maybe the case.

We are told. The systems around us. That we should get more experience. More credentials. A better network. More options. But more — does it really help? I mean, I think it actually makes things harder often.

And yet we do not plan with that in mind.

At least I do not.

The benefits of being naive are far and wide reaching. Yet we fight naivete. Actively. We are uncomfortable with not knowing. But what if not knowing something actually came with all these benefits. Free of all this burden. So much more pleasure and presence.

We think that well if we know more, we will be able to do better in situations. I think that can certainly be true. But what if…what if in doing that we are losing that ability to unleash our energy freely. And presently.

Like is it possible to blend both?

Perhaps so.

Paul Graham does this well. He is the person that immediately comes to mind for me. He knows a lot about a lot of things, but he seems able to approach any new situation with the mind of a 3rd grader. I say 3rd grader not in a bad way. In a complimentary way. He can just turn it on. He can ask the stupid questions. The high level ones. The ones you should ask but don’t because you are embarrassed of the naivete.

Many social interactions are this way. They star with ingenuity. They start with you posturing instead of just asking the thing you actually care about.

So I’m pro naivete. You have to be able to use it. I think. But I am pro starting with that open mind.

That open mind will serve you well in various circumstances. From problem solving to traveling to going to a concert – if you can bring with you that open mind, you can really get a lot out of experiences.


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