Children find everything in nothing; men find nothing in everything.
I often tell my son he’s one of my greatest teachers, because with his help, I gradually learned how to be a kid again. It wasn’t an easy process though. I was caught up in a world of worry, seriousness, and other people’s definition of “reality” for a long time before I slowly shed self-defeating thoughts layer by layer. Now, according to the kids in the playground, I’m officially one of them!
Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.
Forgive And Forget. Remember this when you were young? You would get mad at your parents over something and then tell yourself that you would hate them FOREVER. I can’t count how many times I was going to be mad at my parents FOREVER. Now, I can’t even remember one single thing I was upset at them for. We teach children forgiveness, but then they one-up us by showing us how to forget.
Some may say that children lack the capacity to truly understand the concept of forgiveness, but I feel we can learn a lot from them. Kids try to hold grudges, but rarely do, yet adults easily hold grudges over small matters, often trivial matters. I know many adults who will harbour a resentment to their death beds. I don’t know any kids who can do that for more than a few days. We laugh at this, and yet, it’s ironic because they’re doing something most of us can’t do.
Lose Your Role. Part of being an adult, and particularly a parent, is getting caught in the role of being an adult. Suddenly, you over-concern yourself with stroller recalls, being suspicious of strangers, and being more serious in general. I myself played this adult role for a long time.
Another huge part of the adult role is the need to be right. You can’t make mistakes in front of children, right? Wrong. As much as I’d love my son to think of me as Superman, I actually feel more super by admitting my mistakes and showing him that I’m pretty human. On the same token, adults especially don’t like being wrong in front of other adults. If told otherwise, we get fixated with our points of view and almost automatically become rigid and defensive.
Be flexible. Be a learner. Laugh at your mistakes. F*ck being right.
Perspective. Kids don’t get stressed. Sure, their problems aren’t like ours, but what makes our problems bigger than theirs? Why are our problems here in the first place? What are we not letting go of? Children don’t see our problems as problems, just like we don’t see their problems as problems. Likewise, they don’t care about our problems as much as we don’t care about theirs. How about looking at your problems through their eyes? That’s the great thing about perspective. Sometimes, just seeing things from the point of view of another person, even a child, makes things a lot easier.
Look At The World In A Kinder Light. Funny that kinder is the German word for “children”! As we get older, we tend to readily consume negative information. We adapt the distorted belief that the world is more dangerous than it really is and then pass our views to children. We inundate our children with the constant hazards of everyday life, and as a result, confine ourselves to safe beach vacations, gated communities in the suburbs, bottled water, hand sanitizers, and SUV’s.
Case in point. I visited Myanmar a few months ago – a dictatorship country with almost no Western influence, no banks for foreigners, and a high rate of poverty. As I wandered the dark streets at night, due to constant brownouts and lack of street lighting, I felt perfectly safe, as did other travelers. The Burmese are really wonderful people, and poverty does not necessarily mean danger.
Teach kids to be street smart, but not afraid of everything. Kids generally think of the world as an OK place, and really, it is. Start adapting that mentality more, and you’ll be waving at strangers rather than thinking they’re out to get you.
Be In The Moment. Kids don’t get stuck fretting about the past or worrying about the future. The past is either a learning experience or fun memories – usually the latter. Adults, however, don’t have it as good. In fact, we teach kids that the past can be used as a weapon, either to others or themselves . “Remember the time you ____ ? That’s why we don’t ____ anymore.” Making mistakes is not failure so long as you use those less-than-stellar experiences as stepping stones.
Enjoy right now. I will admit that this isn’t an easy concept, but I will break it down in future posts.
Find Happiness In Simple Things. Kids can make an adventure out of anything – cardboard boxes, the playground, a pile or rocks. When I travelled to the rural areas of Nepal and Peru, I really took notice of how the children would relish in a game of soccer with an old ball or even an empty water bottle. One of my fondest memories of the past summer was simply building stone forts at a rocky beach in Nova Scotia, and then having an epic battle with my son.
Similarly, you can find happiness today in something small. A walk in the woods. Enjoying an ice cream cone. Sitting in silence. Just do one thing, and don’t think about the time, errands to run later, or anything else.
Play. Obviously, this had to be on the list. Kids need to play. We don’t…. do we? Yes we do, but adults don’t play because they’re either too busy, too tired, or too serious. Becoming unbusy requires much conscious effort and time management. As for tiredness, what is the source of that tiredness? It’s rarely due to age. I’ve seen hoards of Japanese seniors making the 10 day round-trip trek to 4,500m in Nepal. It’s more likely physical neglect and mental fatigue. Are you not living on purpose? Are you caught up running around tackling pointless tasks? Are you allowing your body and mind to be inactive?
Maturity has nothing to do with the absence of playfulness. It’s related to responsibility. The “youngest” elderly I know are playful their whole lives. It’s embedded in their faces – the happy wrinkles around their eyes, their naturally radiant smiles, their exuberance.
Follow A Dream. This is a big one. We dreamed big when we were young. We dressed up as our favorite characters, imagined ourselves as them, and had fantastic visions of what we wanted to be when we grew up. Then we quashed our dreams with age. Logic prevailed and the heart got the backburner. Maybe it’s no longer possible to be an astronaut, but you can still learn to play the piano, dance, or speak Italian, if those are some of the things you’ve always wanted to do. Start by achieving little dreams, and light that fire within you again.