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Entering the child's world

Who are...

  • the happiest people in the world?

  • the most adventurous people in the world?

  • the most playful people in the world?

  • the most curious people in the world?

  • the most authentic and self-expressed people in the world?

  • the most creative people in the world?

  • the most energetic people in the world?

  • the people who have the most unlimited sense of what the future holds for them?

Of course, young children. Yes, sometimes you can find exceptions (usually caused by an unusually hostile or indifferent environment). But, as a single category of humans, in comparison with any other category (for example, artists or monks), young children, especially before the age of four and even up to the age of seven, are the answers to each of these questions.

In addition, young children generally do not think or feel that...

  • life is hard.

  • life is unfair.

  • life and other people are dangerous.

  • the future is something to worry about.

  • life is boring.

  • learning is boring.

  • they're "not good enough."

  • they're "not smart enough."

  • it's a problem if they make mistakes.

Why do we lose the natural happiness and love of life that we were born with?

When I ask adults why they think children are able to be this way (in contrast with us adults), their answers are typically, "Children don't have the responsibilities and obligations we adults do." Yes, if we design and hold (usually by default) "responsibilities and obligations" as the enemy of adventure, play, curiosity, and self-expression, instead of avenues through which to express these even more fully, then we will have given up our life for what we think we "have to do."

Why are children happier than we adults? How did we lose our birthright?

In fact, we adults, compared to children, have an incomparable freedom of choice, as well as a cornucopia of life options open to us. Why then are we not more happy, rather than less happy, than children?

Our loss of innocence, curiosity, playfulness, silliness, and overall happiness is sourced from two interacting factors.

Looking good and not looking bad

The first occurs most probably as normal epigenetic development into social beings. Before the age of two or three, although children will be concerned about the responses of adults to their behaviors, they will not be concerned about "looking good" or about the costs that their behaviors are exacting on others. When a two-year-old screams at the top of their lungs because they are not getting what they want, they have little awareness of concern about how it's exacerbating the overwhelm that their mother is feeling.

Step by step, as we move through the ages of preschool, middle childhood, late childhood, and into early adolescence, we become more and more concerned about looking good, fitting in, and belonging, whether we're good at it or not. 

If a perceived conflict occurs, either with our parents and teachers or later with our peers, between looking good (and not looking bad) and with being authentic, curious, fully self-expressed, playful, adventurousness, and doing what we feel like doing, then we are likely to choose the former and repress the latter.

Being good and not being bad

The second factor has to do with another epigenetic development: stepping into a world where our sense of self-worth and identity is based upon doing good, where "good" ultimately means that which will be approved of by most or all of the tribe members we think we "belong to." And, more importantly, residing in that world means not doing bad, where "bad" ultimately means that which be disapproved of by most or all of the tribe members we think we "belong to." 

Within this new world (the House of Good and Bad), instead of just naturally being happy and feeling good about ourselves and others as we did as a child, our ability to feel good about ourselves (and others) now hinges on the ideas of goodness and badness, as vaguely or more specifically expressed within our tribe or tribes that we "belong to." We latch onto (and it latches onto us like a virus) the destructive and addictive behavior of blame toward others and ourselves. 

This blame is nuanced in all the following expressions: righteousness, defensiveness, fault, recrimination, condemnation, criticism, reprimand, disapproval, guilt, remorse, regret, contrition, shame, self-criticism, self-disgust, and self-disapproval. Living inside this world often expresses itself for many of us in the form of interminable belief that we're not good enough, we're not smart enough, we're not lovable, or we're not someone to be respected, and so on. Pick your favorite.

Interestingly, the story of the Garden of Eden in the Bible suggests the answer. "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil," spoke the serpent to Eve. Before they learned about "good and evil," Adam and Eve were happy before they learned of good and evil. (King James Version quoted).

Combining our concerns about how we occur for others with our "decision" to live in the House of Good and Bad, it's no wonder any of us rarely experience the type of naturally flowing happiness and aliveness that we experienced as a child.

The memes of "good and bad" become viral, infecting all areas of life's choices

Once these basic ideas of "good and bad" are accepted as necessary truths, they become attached to almost anything, usually informed by parents, teachers, cultures, authorities, religions, and governments. Staying married is good; getting divorced is bad. Being faithful is good; cheating is bad. Eating healthy is good; eating junk food is bad. Being altruistic is good, being selfish is bad. Condemning racists is good; being a racist is bad. Believing in God is good; being a heathen is bad. And the list goes on.

 

We learn that it's important to look good to others; we'll be praised and not blamed. And when others think we're bad, we will have lost approval and incurred blame and condemnation (and even put into jail). This is why almost everyone's #1 concern underneath everything else is the answer to the question, "What are you thinking of me?" Young children haven't yet learned to have this concern. 

Genesis speaks of this concern, "And he said (Adam speaking to God), 'I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.'" Before having learned of good and evil, Adam has no concern that he was naked before God. Afterwards, however, he became concerned about "looking good." 

Why do we stay stuck in the good-bad world with all its costs, instead of returning to the child's world overflowing with joy, freedom, and happiness?

Ask any drug addict (who's half-way self-aware) why they continue with their behavior in spite of the immense costs and they'll tell you about a bunch of short-term benefits. The good-bad world has a lot of benefits also, all of them short-term, as are the benefits that the drug addict cashes in on. Once you've bought in, as with the drug addict, it's problematic to get out.

Benefits of living in the HOGAB (House of Good and Bad)

  • The good-bad world provides a sense of safety, knowing what's right and what's wrong, not having to consider the risks and the feelings of fear we would feel regarding our life choices when, with eyes open, we have to assess and balance the costs, benefits, risks, and possibilities, both long-term and short-term, both for ourselves and for the others we care about.

  • And, as long as those around us share a similar sense of what is good and bad, then we know clearly what to do to be considered good and what to avoid to be thought of as bad. We get to look good.

  • We can also get a sense of camaraderie, support, and alignment with others when we all indulge together in our confirmation biases about what is good and what is bad.

  • We can get support and sympathy from those others (with even some shared feel-good righteousness) who agree with our sense of what is right and wrong when we are the victim ("that cheating bastard!")

  • It builds and reinforces our sense of identity and ego as a "good person." It can provide a sense of meaning in life, which we hold to be essential (children don't need this).

  • It protects us from feeling empathy or concern for those others whom we have judged to have wronged us (which might present a problem if we were empathetic) . Private note: In a moment of self-awareness, my mother told me the reason she had to blame my father (in order to allow herself to leave him) was she otherwise would feel too sorry for him.

  • Without the good-bad world, we would lose all the interesting and engaging dramas that entertain us. Think of all the fairy tales, novels, movies, and TV series that depend upon some sort of bad guy(s), good guy(s), and victim(s) to make them interesting. Frankly, I've never seen an interesting drama without such characters. Add to that the video games, most of which depend upon the player taking the role of hero against the villain(s). Even I enjoy watching an engaging good guy-bad guy drama, all the while noting to myself that if either side took my coaching to make better choices for themselves in the presented situations, then the whole drama would fall apart and there would be no story. As Byron Katie asks, "Who would you be without your story?" Or as Leo Tolstoy said, “Happy people have no history.”

  • Once we have bought into the good-bad world, many of us would feel lost to knowing how to make "good" decisions without relying on it. This is reflected in a quote by Dostoevsky (who was also implying that God was the author of ethics), "If there is no God, everything is permitted." 

Returning to the child's world (as you become more wise), step by step.

We adults have more to learn from children (by the example of who they are) than they have to learn from us.

But how can you begin to re-own that child within you? The good news is that, no matter how effectively you have disowned, denied, ignored, or criticized your inner child (so that you can "survive" in the adult world), Your-Child is still there, waiting for Your-Parent to pay attention to and show respect to him or her. Waiting to take you back to Eden.

You've probably developed some facility in understanding and using the distinctions of Your-Now and Your-Next. Think about it. All the special focuses, interests, inclinations, and abilities of Your-Now are the same as those of Your-Child (who you were/are at three years old). And Your-Next has the same focuses, interests, inclinations, and abilities of Your-Parent, that part of you whose job is to take care of your longer-term interests.

How old are you?

Fairly often, in China and now in Vietnam, I am asked the question, "How old are you?" My response is something like, "I'm actually younger than you are. I'm three years old, but I am pretending to be 79." I suspect that most people think I'm just being humorous. However, as people get to know me better than often comment, "Yes, you are just like a child."

Just asking a question

One way to enliven your child's spirit is my learning to ask the question, "Right now, how could I see and approach this circumstance in a way that includes the spirit of the child I was when I was three-years old?" Or "Wearing the glasses of the child, how might I see the world and express myself in this circumstance?" Use kickstarting a mental habit to install this routine.

Catch yourself when Your-Next is not showing respect and consideration to Your-Now, which is the same as Your-Parent not showing respect and consideration to Your-Child. See Next showing respect to Now. This lack of respect is most often driven by Next's fear of Now's domination. Identify that fear (even if vaguely) and then use undoing fear. Note that in the undoing fear process, you express yourself using a loud wacky and silly voice. Let Your-Child express yourself with that wacky, silly voice.

Other processes (aside from everything else on this site) that more directly reawaken and enliven the spirit of that child are Screaming and Enchanting. Check them out. Oh, and also check out Fun Stuff.

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