When I was a kid, my mom always bought apple shampoo. I’ve always loved apples. They smell fruity, taste great, and are super healthy. That shampoo smelled like the freshest, juiciest apple I’ve ever - or never - tasted.
Can you guess what happened?
Of course, even then, I knew shampoo wasn’t supposed to taste like apple. It wasn’t supposed to taste like anything. But if it smelled so much like one of my favorite foods in the world, how could I ever know it wouldn’t if I didn’t try it?
So one day, I did. It tasted absolutely disgusting. I immediately spit it out. It was bitter and slimy and not at all what the smell had advertised. But I was still happy. Because now I knew for sure: this thing is not what it seems like, and I know because I tried.
In a video called “This is Not a Cactus,” Evan Hadfield stands next to a large, succulent plant. Despite looking everything like it, he says, it’s not a cactus. It’s called Euphorbia candelabrum, and it’s an entirely different species. But he grew up in Texas - and in Texas, all the plants he learned about were cacti. Naturally, he assumed so was this.
This is called inference, and it’s one of our brain’s best and worst capabilities at once.
By piecing together memories and experiences from completely unrelated events, we can imagine the future. We can project what things are like. The catch is that, often, we’re still wrong. But we’re not used to it. We expect to be right.
This hurts our ability to learn. To be humble. To understand the world a little better.
When he was 17, Evan moved to Japan as a kindergarten teacher. Part of his daily routine was to make sure the kids cleaned the classroom. One day, one of his kids, little Kazuki, had to wipe the entire floor with a wash cloth. As he ran around the room, pushing the washcloth with both his hands, he licked the entire floor. When Evan asked him why he did it, 3-year-old Kazuki taught him a big lesson by saying:
“I just didn’t know what it tasted like.”
Thinking back to it now, Evan says:
“I can only imagine that, on that day in Japan, that floor tasted gross. But the only person who knows in reality is Kazuki. Because for all the experience I'd had until that point in my life, I wasn’t willing to give that one a go.”
We call this growing up, but, really, it’s just losing our willingness to learn. No one says that’s part of it. No one says we have to.
“Eventually there comes a time when you stop licking floors and just start imagining that you know what they taste like.”
Well, we don’t. And there’s nothing wrong with finding out the only way we can ever know for sure: by trying something new.
The next time you smell a fruity shampoo, see an odd plant, or have to clean a wooden floor, remember: it might not be what you think it is.
Maybe, it’s time to slow down and examine it. Even if that means you have to lick it.
About Slow Down Sunday: Life is fast. If we don’t stop and turn around once in a while, we might miss it. So on Sunday, let’s stop and turn around.
Let’s slow down so we can experience all of life - not just parts of it.
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