Button Up! (aka: Conventional Wisdom is Not Always Wise)

cold cold cold“Button up!” millions of parents across the US will say as their children head out into the chilly November air. “Don’t forget your jacket.”

And many obedient children will pull on a jacket or sweater, even if, in fact, they feel perfectly warm without one, and run off to play. But a few kids will stare back at their parents, eyes wide with curiosity, and ask, “Why?”

Why indeed? Why do we tell children that they must wear a jacket, whether they feel cold or not? The old-school, authoritarian parents will frown at the defiance of the questioning child, and respond, “Because I said so. Now do it!” Other parents may shrug and respond, “So that you don’t catch a cold. Everyone knows that. It is conventional wisdom.” And so, the child obeys. He buttons up his sweater and leaves his curiosity behind, and then one day, gives the exact same response to his own children.

I was not that child. I was the child who continued to stare back at my parents. “How can I catch a cold from not wearing my jacket?” I asked. “A cold comes from catching a virus. Not from being cold.” I was correct, of course, however, my reward for pointing out scientific fact over obedience of so-called conventional wisdom was a good old-fashioned spanking. And so, I learned that in some cultures, blind obedience to authority is much more highly valued than intellect, curiosity, or progressive thinking.  truth or myth

It is not possible to escape conventional wisdom altogether. It is a large part of any culture for people to hold onto ideas that sound wise, or have continued throughout the ages, despite a lack of empirical evidence to support them. Kind of like truthiness. And for those of us who tend to be progressive, out-of-the-box thinkers, arguing against ideas of conventional wisdom is about as useful as trying to convince a crowd of people in a steakhouse to go vegetarian.

And so I keep my head down, button up, and say nothing. After all, no matter how much research I have done to prove how right my argument is, I will always be wrong. You know what they say…majority rules. Argumentum ad populum. Everyone says so; therefore, it must be true.



  • Eating sugary foods will make kids hyper.
  • Kids who don’t get spanked turn into spoiled brats.
  • You have to wait an hour after eating before swimming or you’ll get cramps and drown.
  • People with Asian ancestry are superior in math.
  • Eating foods rich in vitamin C will make your cold go away faster
  • Humpty Dumpty was an egg.
  • The Earth is flat.
  • The sun revolves around the earth


God bless you, Mark Twain.

God bless you, Mark Twain.

5 responses to “Button Up! (aka: Conventional Wisdom is Not Always Wise)

  1. Very nice! I just recently had the argument about waiting to go swimming – I’ve been swimming my whole live after meals and it always feels great to me.

    In college, I dated a girl who tried to make me put on a jacket when I already had a sweater on, telling me I would catch a cold if I didn’t. It led to an argument and I just had a feeling that this was not the type of person I would want to be with 🙂

    • Hahaha! Sounds like you had good sense in college. And about swimming. I have always had a hard time understanding why so many people stubbornly hold onto misunderstandings or misinformation even after learning the undeniable scientific facts. I wonder how long it finally took for people to finally accept that they were mistaken, and that the earth actually revolves around the sun.

      I know that we all have our phases of ignorance; when we follow the sheep because it is easy, or because holding onto our convictions makes us feel righteous somehow. But I have the most respect for people when they at least leave a tiny window of possibility open in the back of their minds that they may be mistaken, or that another idea may be just as valid as the one they hold to so strongly. That is how we grow and progress, IMO.

    • I am that parent. 🙂 I encourage my children to question everything, but to handle it appropriately and respectfully. If I say something which they feel is erroneous, then they have the right to speak up. “Mom, are you sure about that? I read something different…” They understand that I have the final say, and they respect it. But I make it clear to them that even I am capable of making mistakes, and that even I, the parent, can sometimes learn from my children. We grow together.

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