One of my favorite conversation starters is “What’s your superpower?” Everyone has one! Take a minute and think about it and you can probably come up with one too. Usually, it’s something that is a natural talent or a skill you’ve honed over time. It could be something as simple as whipping up a great meal from leftovers or as complicated as managing a multifaceted business. My superpower is understanding how kids think. I’ve been called the “child whisperer” because of my uncanny ability to interpret the “why” behind a child’s cry or communicate their thoughts when words are still developing. Understanding kids is easy for me because I can appreciate a child’s uniquely simplistic perspective. Adults are more complicated as we are tainted by years of life experience, lost innocence and learned cynicism. Imagine a world where the unsophisticated naivety of a child ruled. Such an innocent influence could redefine our struggles in adulthood.
For example, children are delightfully authentic. Having not lived long enough to learn the art of altering representation, they are the essence of genuineness. A poor self-image may cause a child to veil his true self, but love and reassurance will certainly draw him out. On the other hand, a kid who instinctively revels in the “cute factor” will unabashedly use it to advance his cause. Kids cry when they hurt, fight when they are angry and love fully when given the opportunity.
For the rest of us, authenticity is admired and sought after but rare in a culture driven by social media, virtual images, and politically correct lingo. We’ve grown accustomed to facades and come to expect underlying motives to drive a person’s behavior or actions.
Eventually, we tire of working hard to live up to our Facebook images and collectively sigh with relief when a blogger admits to his faults and life failures. We can’t get enough of pure vulnerability when it is captivatingly relatable. Understandably, authenticity resonates like honey soothing our sore souls and restoring our lost voice.
Children have taught me the importance of pursuing personal authenticity. Paralyzingly introspective, I want desperately, at times, to be someone other than who I am. But most attempts fail miserably. I’m learning to accept my failures and find purpose in the way I was designed. More importantly, I’m learning to find my voice and share openly so that through vulnerability I can find accountability and grow into a better person. Pursuing authenticity in adulthood leads to deeper friendships and continued character development.
However, to share openly, one first must find a safe community. Children understand the importance of community and learn early that family, friends and school provide security, joy, and belonging. Instinctively, they crave social interactions and spend most of childhood playing with friends or competing on teams. Yet as adults often we abandon these people and settings. A whole generation has made friends, found spouses, and built careers virtually. Community has moved online as viral images and videos permeate the internet. We get a sense of connection but are left wanting more and searching for a place to be known. Children have taught me to prioritize finding a place at the table with friends, family, and coworkers.
This isn’t always easy with a full time job and heavy load of commitments. I’ve learned that fulfilling my need for community is my own responsibility. I cannot rely on others to create it for me or expect it will happen naturally. To have a life rich in community I must work hard at creating or taking advantage of opportunities. So, I invite women to my home monthly for a dinner group, participate in a book club, help lead a small group formed by my church and regularly invite my family to my home for dinner. All these settings give me occasions to engage in thoughtful discussions and build relationships. Living in community brings the same joy I once found in playing with neighborhood friends as a child.
Pursuing Unconditional Love
In person connections stripped of pretenses is a felt need in most of our lives but even more crucial is the need for unconditional love and forgiveness. Both are readily available and given freely by children. I’ve failed my children many times, forgetting important requests, loosing me temper, and setting a poor example. But my children have easily forgiven, forgotten, and moved on, never holding a grudge. Children by nature long for and desperately need a secure attachment. Once it is formed, they will love fiercely and forgive freely. They understand the value of the secure attachment and put aside barriers that interfere with it.
Imagine a world where everyone followed the lead of children in relational loyalty and pardons. We’d enjoy heated conversations for sport only and quickly reconcile before moving on. We’d agree to disagree but love more deeply as a result. We’d acknowledge differences and bond over similarities. The secure attachment of all of mankind would translate into a bond never broken by opposition.
But, to live in such a world would require the unconditional love of childhood translating to adulthood, a mental and emotional discipline that few have mastered. However, the pursuit of this type of love is worth the effort. Like children we must abandon judgement, seek understanding, default to accepting, embracing, and appreciating diversity. By intentionally choosing unconditional love we can relive the innocence of childhood.
Childhood can be a beautiful time in life but easily forgotten. Partly because it passes so quickly and memories fade with time. But the lessons we learn in childhood impact us for life and can often define the person we become. I’ve found that life is richer, more meaningful, and definitely more magical when lessons I’ve learned in childhood are applied to adulthood.