There is a tendency in all things to see them only from our unique position and be done with it. A man will look at a woman and expect her to think manly thoughts and live by manly rules. A woman will do the same, thinking that he is simply a more hairy version of herself. Pet owners will look at a cat or dog and apply their own human emotions and reasoning to the behaviors of a beast. One culture will look at another culture and be baffled by their choices, customs and traditions. Most of us would admit that wisdom is born out of a healthy ability to see outside of ourselves. We would also agree that doing so is one of life’s greatest challenges because it requires growth, and growth always hurts.
I think that in most cases, people are at least willing to entertain the idea that they cannot apply the reasoning of a man to a woman, or a man to a cheetah, or a man to a dandelion. Many will resist this at first because life would be easier and simpler if your world was THE world, but in that view all we do is make the world small. So small, in fact, that our life becomes a never-ending cycle of running into walls and then cursing at them. Most of us, to some degree, will begin to remedy the problem by simply admitting that there is a lot to learn outside ourselves (or our walls). I would say that those who never begin to learn this are bound to live the most miserable of lives. But as willingness to look outside ourselves goes, there is one area I feel this is not so readily accepted: Little boys.
Having been in the unique position of creating a comic and TV series with my much younger brother, who was 5 at the time we started, I’ve experienced a lot of opinions and reactions to the way a little boy thinks. On one hand people marvel at the freedom, creativity and wonder that pours out of that active imagination at a seemingly endless rate. On the other hand, they are often horrified by the results. They see a five year old talking about lopping the heads off of evil men and they shudder. They think something must be done immediately. This child must be corrected before he becomes the next Charles Manson.
But just as a man means something totally different than a woman when he speaks of sexual attraction, and a human means something totally different than a horse when they say “neigh”, a 5 year old boy means something completely different from an adult when he says “kill”. The idea of killing, thus far in his life has mostly been limited to what happens routinely in a game of Super Mario Brothers. And in that context, if we were to be so literal and adult about things, a bloodbath has ensued and the body count is breathtaking.
What a little boy actually means when they talk of killing bad guys is another huge topic for another time. I do not claim to have it all figured out. But when we claim to know what they mean because they are kids and we are adults, we have simplified them. We have taken them for granted because they are small. Understanding the world of a child is as deeply and widely complex as trying to understand the opposite sex. That is why I will not try to dive into it too much here.
I write this only to make this first point. When you look into the world of a child, look into it with the same awe and wonder with which you would look into an alien world, or a mystical world inside of a Wardrobe. Assume, from the start, that words and ideas have different meanings. Humble yourself before that little mind and it will become vast before your very eyes. There is a reason Christ said that “anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will not enter it” (Luke 18:17). He is telling us that most of us, as we grow, lose the thing we needed to hold onto the most. What was it? That is the question, and the answer is in your four year old son who day dreams of battle with monsters and defeating every kind of evil.
We grow up and we get jaded. We learn that flight is impossible, super powers are imaginary, guns are bad and the only real ultimate good is to put your pop cans in the proper container and don’t judge anyone or anything. We may get bigger, but our world gets smaller. We shrink. We carry our withered and jaded view of reality like a badge of wisdom and we try to force kids to accept it before their time, and it is in that moment that we rob them of what being a kid really ought to be.
I want to make it clear that I am not one who thinks that kids possess wisdom and should be our teachers. All I am saying, truly all I am trying to say in this posting, is that it is a mistake to view a child through an adult filter and act like you have them all figured out. If it were so easy, Christ never would have had to utter those words that surely shocked the monocled know-it-all’s of his time. A child is not only a wonder because they inhabit a different world than adults. They are an even greater mystery because they possess a world we once inhabited ourselves, but lost along the way. Like with all wisdom, there is a paradox at the heart of the matter.
It is not enough to say we should give up our world to regain theirs. We need to remain adults. But to really see a child and accept their world beyond the confines of our adult perception expands our world. Just as when we really work to let go and see the opposite sex on their terms, or to love someone for the sake of who they are and not what they can be for us… our world is inevitably made more robust, deep, meaningful and those little walls of our own world broaden. Seeing a child’s world does not make us kids again, it makes us better adults.
I would like to get into the specifics of my own observations on the philosophy of why little boys obsess over battling bad guys, but for now I will leave it at this. Look at your kids, and all kids, with humility. You do have something to offer them, but they have something to offer you too. When we try to turn kids into little adults we make the whole world grow up too fast, and in so doing, it shrinks.