WARNING: This post is not completely synchronized. The paragraphs are more a collection of thoughts than a properly structured, single-pointed piece of prose. READ WITH CAUTION.
It has been my observation that children are much more like grown-ups than grown-ups (or at least the bulk of them) readily accept. Children are frequently treated as incapable of comprehension or understanding deeper things of life. I heartily disagree. I think children are very much like grown-ups. They just happen to be smaller and less experienced in living. In fact, it is this inexperience that creates my favorite quality in children (and some grown-ups): the ability to become enchanted. This is prompted by a quote that appears down the page from that great enchanter, J. R. R. Tolkien.
But first, a little context:
Whether this notion of substantial difference between adults and children is due to the grown-up need for order and predictability or if it’s connected to the physiological changes that arise as a human matures, I cannot say. There are likely many factors, and most are beyond my grasp. What I can say for certain is that after a generation of interacting with young humans, the only real distinction of any import (in my opinion) regarding children vis a vis adults is the general willingness of most children to try (and genuinely enjoy) learning new things.
I (and by “I”, I mean mostly my wife) have raised children for a decade (my oldest is halfway to adulthood, upon which occasion I will continue to counsel her, pray for her, and hope the very best for her – you never stop being a parent, just as God never stops caring for and forgiving you).
I have taught and coached children of all ages for nearly 15 years. I love interacting with young people. I think they love interacting with me.
I have been told on more than one occasion that I was “the fun uncle”, and I never thought twice about it. I was just being me. After discussing with a friend the possibility of him joining me in teaching a Sunday school class of elementary students and having him recoil in genuine disbelief at my suggestion, I began to think about the factors that make a person enjoy working with children, and more importantly, why it’s important.
Why is it that some adults connect quickly, almost instantly, with children? Why do others fumble about and never amount to anything more than an awkward interloper into the realm of toddler/kid/teenager world?
This post is prompted by the following passage, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “On Fairy-Stories”: http://tinyurl.com/bnu7vz5
(that children should be the main audience for fantasy stories) …is often, I think, an adult illusion produced by children’s humility, their lack of critical experience and vocabulary, and their voracity. They like or try to like what is given to them: if they do not like it, they cannot well express their dislike or give reasons for it (and so may conceal it); and they like a great mass of different things indiscriminately, without troubling to analyze the planes of their belief.
For those of you who only know Mr. Tolkien as the master story-teller and author of The Hobbit & Lord of The Rings, I encourage you to explore his impressive resume: http://www.tolkiensociety.org/tolkien/biography.html He is a fantastic scholar and a brilliant professor with an expertise in matters of language, mythology, history, and theology.
His writings have inspired me as I attempt to craft, or as he would call it, “sub-create” a world of fantasy fiction that is full of entertainment but also contains the eternal truths that resonate in every human heart, and I believe, are the hallmarks of transcendent story-telling. Too often, Tolkien laments, these types of stories have been relegated to the realm of children. In reality, these stories are the strongest remnant of what humanity used to share in the oral tradition before we organized and codified the knowledge of humanity and subsequently prioritized it in our systematic and uniform education.
I am a fan of education and order. I do not intend to disagree with what we have accomplished in eradicating illiteracy on a scale never before seen. I do not dispute the need for advanced training in technology, etc. What I do regret is the slow decline of the value of literature in modern life.
What does that have to do with children?
(I warned you at the beginning about the rambling nature of this post)
Well, I’m glad you asked. I believe the essence of being “child-like” is not so much a willing suspension of disbelief in the mythical, the supernatural, or even the impossible. It is a willingness to engage the moment, whatever that moment might consist of, without preoccupation. It is the ability to be unassuming, to be genuinely motivated (without self-interest) in learning, in discovery, in challenging and competing to understand, whatever the topic.
Children are instinctive learners. They are passionate and excitable about new information. The real difference between children and grown-ups is not the size of our bodies (though that is a difference – how excited I was to crack that magical 42” barrier and join the land of the roller coaster riders).
Our primary difference is the size of our interest in learning about new things. The “fun uncles” and the “favorite teachers” are adults who have refused to abandon the desire to discover, to be exposed as ignorant, and in finding the answer, to be enchanted. To wonder and to wander in the realm of the unknown, and to lead – better yet, join – children in such a place.
I believe it is this virtue of genuine enthusiasm for learning that distinguishes a person and produces the kind of temperament that is congenial, collegial, and most of all, “child-like”. Which is to say it retains that spark of enthusiasm for learning that is as refreshing as the glee of a first grader reacting to themselves when they are able to read a story aloud to their family, on their own. Or the delight of experiencing elementary physics on a carousel.
Be child-like. Try something new. Learn something different. Shun preoccupation. Explore. Discover.