The mouths of babes

Lis­ten to the lit­tle peo­ple — chil­dren can teach us valu­able life lessons

Irish Independent - Health & Living - - WELLBEING -

PAR­ENTS are of­ten asked about the moral val­ues and life lessons that they would like to teach their chil­dren. It’s less com­mon for them to be asked about the lessons their chil­dren have taught them. Wil­liam Saroyan, a Pulitzer Prize-win­ning writer, said, “While we try to teach our chil­dren all about life, our chil­dren teach us what life is all about.”

Paulo Coelho, writ­ing in The Fifth Moun­tain, was a lit­tle more spe­cific: “A child can teach an adult three things: to be happy for no rea­son, to al­ways be busy with some­thing, and to know how to de­mand with all his might that which he de­sires.”

Here are a few other lessons we can learn from them. ÷ QUES­TION EV­ERY­THING Chil­dren are al­ways ask­ing ‘why?’. This never-end­ing in­quis­i­tive­ness can ex­as­per­ate par­ents, es­pe­cially if they don’t know why the sky is blue or why the moon is round. Yet ev­ery so of­ten a child will ask a ‘why?’ that an adult can’t de­flect or de­fer. When a six-year-old wants to know why you’re al­ways work­ing, or why you’re al­ways look­ing for your keys or why you smoke, you can no longer hide be­hind self-de­cep­tion. Some adults dis­cover great power in the prac­tice of self-in­quiry, which Sri Ra­mana Ma­harshi termed “the most sa­cred of sa­cred”. Chil­dren prac­tice it with­out even think­ing. ÷ GET OVER IT A child can be hav­ing a mini-melt­down in the frozen food sec­tion of a su­per­mar­ket one minute, and then chas­ing a but­ter­fly down a path­way the next. In other words, they don’t waste en­ergy dwelling on per­ceived mis­for­tune, con­struct­ing vic­tim nar­ra­tives or hold­ing grudges, just as they don’t hang around the climb­ing frame in the play­ground be­moan­ing their ‘night­mare morn­ing’. If a child could de­tail their ap­proach to over­com­ing ad­ver­sity, it would prob­a­bly go like this: Deal with it, move on, get an ice cream. ÷ PRI­ORI­TISE PLAY­TIME We all know the proverb ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. The late play the­o­rist Brian Sut­ton-Smith took it a step fur­ther when he pointed out that “the op­po­site of play isn’t work. It’s de­pres­sion.” Adults need play­time too, of course. And chil­dren can teach us how topri­ori­ti­seit. ÷ DON’T BE STA­TUS-ORI­ENTED “Grown-ups love fig­ures... When you tell them you’ve made a new friend they never ask you any ques­tions about es­sen­tial mat­ters. They never say to you, ‘What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he col­lect but­ter­flies?’ In­stead they de­mand, ‘How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his fa­ther make?’ Only from these fig­ures do they think they have learned any­thing about him.” So goes a fa­mous quote from The Lit­tle Prince. The point An­toine de Saint-Ex­upéry was mak­ing is that chil­dren aren’t sta­tus-ori­ented. They judge peo­ple on the work they do or the car they drive — largely be­cause they have more im­por­tant things to be think­ing about... ÷ JUST SAY IT Ev­ery so of­ten a child will leave ev­ery­one in the room red-faced when they in­no­cently bring up a touchy sub­ject. They have yet to re­alise that com­plicit avoidance and col­lec­tive de­nial are the mark­ers of adult­hood… Ti­mothy Fer­ris, writ­ing in the 4-Hour Work­week, says a “per­son’s suc­cess in life can usu­ally be mea­sured by the num­ber of un­com­fort­able con­ver­sa­tions he or she is will­ing to have.” Chil­dren re­mind us that these con­ver­sa­tions don’t have to be so un­com­fort­able. ÷ FIND STILL­NESS IN NA­TURE Many teach­ers of the Zen Buddhism school of think­ing talk about be­com­ing mind­ful through na­ture. Jack Korn­field says, “If we could see the mir­a­cle of a sin­gle flower clearly, our whole life would change.” Eck­hart Tolle says, “Look at a tree, a flower, a plant. Let your aware­ness rest upon it. How still they are, how deeply rooted in be­ing. Al­low na­ture to teach you still­ness.” These teach­ings can seem ab­stract un­til you watch the way a child re­sponds to na­ture. They don’t just look at a flower — they ex­pe­ri­ence it. Chil­dren teach us how to truly con­nect to the nat­u­ral world, just as they re­mind us to stop and smell the flow­ers ev­ery now and again. ÷ AL­LOW YOUR­SELF TO BE JOY­FUL It’s easy to spot the peo­ple who have re­tained a sense of their child­like spirit. When they get good news, they clench their fists and de­liver an em­phatic ‘YES!’ The rest of us learn to mod­er­ate our joy when we be­come adults. Rather than risk dis­ap­point­ment, we re­mind our­selves that good things don’t last for­ever. Rather than al­low our­selves to be ex­ul­tant, we tell our­selves that things are too good to be true. Be­cause they live en­tirely in the mo­ment, chil­dren al­low them­selves to ex­pe­ri­ence the to­tal­ity of joy. Luck­ily for us, it’s con­ta­gious. ÷ BE SPON­TA­NEOUS I once an­swered the door to my nephew’s sixyear-old friend from across the road. He had in his hand an ex­tra-large bar of choco­late and he wanted to know if my nephew could come to his house to eat it with him. I of­ten think about that day and how much eas­ier adult friend­ships would be if they were that spon­ta­neous and straight­for­ward. The busy­ness of mod­ern life means most of us have got into the habit of sched­ul­ing our friend­ships. Chil­dren re­mind us that the best mo­ments are of­ten un­planned.

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