“Be grateful you’re not in the forest in France Where the average young person just hasn’t a chance To escape from the perilous pants eating plants But your pants are safe, you’re a fortunate guy You ought to be shouting, how lucky am I!”
I am sitting on a tiny sofa shared with 21 5-year-olds as I turn the final page of "Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?" by Dr. Seuss.
The children all scatter for nap time, but as I lift Clara off my lap, she suddenly looks at me with a giggle and asks, “Did I ever tell you how lucky you are?”
I laugh and reply, “No, you never did. How lucky am I?”
“Silly,” she begins, “You’re lucky ‘cause you get to work with us! Duh. And you’re lucky because you have pretty hair. And you got to eat tacos today, and you’re not outside in the cold right now…”
Only an hour earlier, I deemed today a bad hair day. I picked at the sub-par taco meal served up by the preschool’s chef. I was angry because I had to walk to work.
I began to wonder, why is it that as we grow older, our hearts enter a deeper freeze? Why do we become less willing to warm up to other people?
The longer I work with children, the more I notice their astounding resilience, and the more my heart begins to thaw.
With every scraped knee on the playground and a kiss to the boo-boo, they return to their friends running and screaming. With every tug-of-war over play materials, all it takes is a quick talk where hands are shaken, and it’s as if there was never a dispute in the first place.
What if our world’s leaders could operate in the same manner? Why is it that as we grow older, we hold stronger grudges and when someone calls us a mean name, we declare eternal war?
Quite simply, adults are terrified of being vulnerable, and that is the exact fact that makes us so vulnerable.
We make our decisions based on how others may perceive us, then refute our beliefs when we receive criticism. Each conflict must be dwelled upon solely because we have more knowledge.
As we gain experience, we become more suspicious of everyone else besides ourselves. As we overanalyze everything, we lose appreciation of those very things.
We have far too much pride for pardon, we loathe admittance and honesty is whittling away faster than the world’s food supply.
However, children have a quality of fearlessness. It's a fearlessness of being vulnerable, of letting their guard down to strangers and of saying whatever is on their mind.
There’s such a tension between adults, and as we grow older, we become acutely aware of “awkward moments.”
We wonder, “Is it awkward to hug goodbye even though we just met? Will they think I’m awkward if I introduce myself? Am I an awkward person if I ask to join their activity?” We have even reached the point to where we proclaim any time two people sit quiet for longer than 20 seconds as an “awkward silence.”
With kids, though, there is nothing awkward about being candid. When they want to join a group to play, they request inclusion and are granted such.
To befriend someone, all it takes is, “Do you want to be my friend?” If they need assistance, without hesitation, they unashamedly call out, “Can you help me please?” When they’ve done something wrong, it’s painless to inquire, “Will you forgive me?”
All they need to do is ask.
Most importantly, children have a fearlessness of expressing love honestly. At the age of 5, everyone is friends with everyone.
Every activity is fun, nothing is lame and it’s okay to tell anyone “I love you.” As I leave work, I receive 21 hugs from children I only met last week -- some of whom still don’t remember my name.
If we regularly told people, even average people we don’t know, how much they are loved, there would probably be much less tension in the world. Too often, we act harshly toward others because we are feeling insecure inside ourselves.
Five-year-olds are still at that stage where there is so much promise in them. They have an unparalleled openness that we can learn from, and a complete welcoming view of a variety of opinions.
It’s as if they have a greater sense of adventure than we do, an inability to judge books based on their covers and a malleability greater than gold.
It’s sad that experience slaps the ignorance out of people. Reality takes its toll with age and hardens humans over time. That may be true, but if there’s only one thing we can preserve from our 5-year-old selves, let’s hold onto our vulnerabilities.
Let’s not be afraid of occasionally showing a softer side, because that’s ultimately what makes us strong in the long run.
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