Discovering genius in a pen

Last week I discovered a child genius, and learned a lesson in the importance of expectations.

As individuals (and particularly as parents), we tend to think we know best for ourselves, our friends, our families, and society – at least most of the time. We trust our experience and our ability to assess a situation and thus like to impart our wisdom as and when required, or even when it isn’t.

But what if we are wrong? What if we’ve completely misunderstood a situation? What use is our wisdom then, and how confusing must it be for those around us, especially our kids?

The Magic of Pens

I recently visited my childrens’ primary school to experience a fantastic series of events put on by the kids, involving dance and sculpture (more schools should encourage both).

Walking around the sculpture display, I came across the artworks created by the kids in year 3 (that’s the 7-8 year olds) where I was struck by a sign. It read, “The Magical Wand”. Next to this was a small pile of identical, blue-ink biro pens.

The Magical Wand

The Magical Wand

“How very clever!” I thought.

“What a brilliant insight by this child, reinterpreting the maxim of ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ for the Harry Potter generation.”

What else could she have possibly meant than that interpretation, considering the title, the objects and the arrangement?

An undiscovered young genius!

I didn’t know the child at all well personally, so I had no other context than my own experience, expectation and … wisdom. Right?

What I hadn’t noticed was that behind the large sign was a small arrangement of coins, with what may have been a magnet, and a pin floating out from it finished with a costume jewellery leaf design. I believe, on reflection, that this was in fact The Magical Wand in question. Very pretty, not as full of meaning and interpretation (or maybe I am wrong again).


The true magic wand, I think

It turns out that the pens were simply provided by the school so parents could leave written comments in the book. The placement was entirely accidental and random.

A slight trick of the viewing angle, the accidental placement of the objects, my ignorance of personal details and my general positive disposition after the show lead me to fabricate a completely fantastical interpretation of the scene. In other words, I was wrong.

I’ve thought about this every day since, and realised that there have probably been many other occasions where I thought I knew what was happening, or was going to happen, and I made mistakes like this. When it is for yourself it can be amusing, or maybe embarrassing. When it involves society, or politics, it can lead to arguments. When it involves chastising, or praising, your own kids, it can be quite confusing for them.

I will try to be more humble in my conclusions, but I hope that if I do err, it will continue to be on the side of seeing magic in the arrangement of pens.