Monday, April 24, 2017

The Innocence of a Child–Seeing Unlimited Possibilities

In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play. - Friedrich Nietzsche

There is frequently more to be learned from the unexpected questions of a child than the discourses of men. - John Locke

When I was a child, I was challenged with a restless mind – a mind that roamed over an unlimited number of academic subjects.  I couldn’t acquire enough knowledge, having read entire encyclopedia sets, studied military history and Roman and Greek history by the time I was 10 years old.

It was a mind that dared to dream, when being on a breakaway during a hockey game on the marsh, I could imagine that I had just taken a pass from Montreal Canadiens’ great Larry Robinson in game 7 of the finals against our archenemy, the Boston Bruins.

It created without fear of embarrassment of what others thought when I played with my Tonkas in the the sandbox, making the all-important sounds of engines, signal lights (dinker, dinker, of course) and even vocalizing the exchanges between the “drivers” of the trucks.

It created adventure where at the age of 7, I wandered around the car ferry John Guy on trips to my ancestral home of Bell Island as I pretended I was a member of the crew monitoring the status of the ferry.  It didn’t seem obvious to me at the time that adults observing me knew that I wasn’t a member of the crew.

My childhood wasn’t perfect or without pain, but few people’s youth is.

As I reflected on these and other thoughts yesterday during Quiet Hour (a personal daily ritual of reflection, contemplation and planning), I emerged and presented a challenge to all of my teams.  In a nutshell, the challenge was this:

Describe a favorite thing you did as a child or a favorite memory that still brings happiness – something that made you come alive then and that brought joy to your childhood.

There was, as always, a method to my madness in instigating such an unusual conversation.

With the obvious exceptions of children who bore great pain and anguish in their childhood, many of us are blessed to have lived pretty decent childhoods.  We saw the world differently as children.

We were likely less biased, judgmental and skeptical (unless poorly formed by our parents or scarred by difficulty).

We were often less fearful and more open to adventure and possibility (again, with the same caveats).

We were (hopefully but not always) more accepting of others.

Most of us dared to dream impossible things for our futures.

And yet somewhere between then and now, many of us have acquired the baggage of fear of others, fear of how others perceive us, distrust, diminished spirit of adventure, diminished belief in potential, fear (not just understanding) of where the world is going, fear of disappointing others and a slew of other concerns, all of which have created a great disconnect between how we imagined our potential and how we live today.

All because we have allowed the difficulties of Life or the diminished outlook and beliefs of others to impair how we see our own potential, gifts and dreams.

I have told a lot of people over the years that I don’t care what others think of what I say or do (many of my colleagues marvel over this – I don’t know why).  I don’t present this as a license to hurt others or a right to run roughshod over people, places or things.  In fact, my belief that someday I will stand in judgment for everything I say or do prevents me from doing this.

However, I have found that the sharpest criticisms (excluding people correcting poor behavior on my part) of what I have said or done in the past are often from the mouths of people going nowhere in their own lives, people living with great insecurity or fear or people who have their own competing agenda and so they seek to diminish what they perceive as competition.

None of these are valid reasons for why I am not permitted to dream, to seek adventure, to create, to collaborate and to love.

And they are not valid reasons for you either.

The Bottom Line

A lot of people are going to their end of days with their song still inside them, unshared because of fear imposed on them by the diminished outlooks of other people or because they have not learned the lessons contained within the difficulties in their Life.

I believe the world is worse off because of this.

My great friend, author and psychotherapist, Leonard Szymczak once encouraged me to think about what I would say to “Little Harry” if I could somehow go back in time and share my lessons learned with the young person who dared to dream and in exchange, I could learn from the innocence of perception as shared by “little Harry”.

The question I asked of my teams is a variant of this suggestion by Leonard.

As I read and listen to the beautiful, powerful stories shared to me by my team members, I feel a responsibility to make sure that in some way, I encourage their childhood dreams and potential to be manifested in the projects we are collaborating on.

By encouraging a different way of seeing things, we also see new possibilities in how we create and manifest our potential, less inhibited by the baggage we have acquired, seeing things in awe and wonderment while simultaneously being more enabled by the wisdom (hopefully) we have acquired.

What dreams did you have as child?

What brought you joy?

Some of you are living your dreams and experiencing that joy as adults – be grateful for that opportunity.

Many of you are not blessed to live this way.

Are the reasons for not living your joy and not folding it into your personal and professional experiences as adults legitimate ones or are they only excuses?

Would your Life be any different if you decided to bring back some childhood innocence (not ignorance) into your adult Life?

Are you sure?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


Addendum - Robert Greene's Views On Seeing Things as a Child

In his apprenticeship in the jungles of the Amazon that would later lead to his career as a groundbreaking linguist, Daniel Everett came upon a truth that has application far beyond his field of study. What prevents people from learning is not the subject itself–the human mind has limitless capabilities–but rather certain learning disabilities that end to fester and grow in our minds as we get older. These include a sense of smugness and superiority whenever we encounter something alien to our ways, as well as rigid ideas about what is real or true, often indoctrinated in us by schooling or family. If we feel like we know something, our minds close off to other possibilities. We see reflections of the truth we have already assumed. Such feelings of superiority are often unconscious and stem from a fear of what is different or unknown. We are rarely aware of this, and often imagine ourselves to be paragons of impartiality.

Children are generally free of these handicaps. They are dependent upon adults for their survival and naturally feel inferior. This sense of inferiority gives them a hunger to learn. Through learning, they can bridge the gap and not feel so helpless. Their minds are completely open; they pay greater attention. This is why children can learn so quickly and so deeply. Unlike other animals, we humans retain what is known as neoteny–mental and physical traits of immaturity–well into our adult years. We have the remarkable capability of returning to a childlike spirit, especially in moments in which we must learn something. Well into our fifties and beyond, we can return to that sense of wonder and curiosity, reviving our youth and apprenticeships.

Understand: when you enter a new environment, your task is to learn and absorb as much as possible. For that purpose you must try to revert to a childlike feeling of inferiority–the feeling that others know much more than you and that you are dependent upon them to learn and safely navigate your apprenticeship. You drop all of your preconceptions about an environment or field, any lingering feelings of smugness. You have no fears. You interact with people and participate in the culture as deeply as possible. You are full of curiosity. Assuming this sensation of inferiority, your mind will open up and you will have a hunger to learn. This position is of course only temporary. You are reverting to a feeling of dependence, so that within five to ten years you can learn enough to finally declare your independence and enter full adulthood.

Source: Mastery by Robert Greene.  A powerful analysis of how one moves from apprentice to master in all walks of life, personal and professional.  This is a highly recommended read!

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