Happily ever after fails; we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales. ... Offer up your best defense, but this is the end ... this is the end of the innocence.
— Don Henley
I was having a conversation recently with my 9-year-old, and while I’d call her a little more worldly wise than most 9-year-olds — or maybe just compared to my own lack of wisdom when I was that age — I was struck by some of her comments and questions.
There was a purity, a no-bull quality, to her take on the world around her, and for most of the ride home from Twin Oaks Elementary, I found myself envying this perfect little person. And I found myself trying to figure out when it was in my life that I lost the ability to look at the world without the cynicism and suspicion that now overwhelm my perception.
Was it the first time I was lied to, the first time I had my heart broken, the first time I realized how inconsequential I was in the grand scheme of things? What was the process through which sarcasm and doubt became the armor I put on to shield myself from the betrayal of supposed friends, the rap of con men and women who saw me as an easy mark, the co-workers who knifed me in the back while brown-nosing their way up the ladder?
At what point did I allow myself to suspend my focus on what’s good and kind in people and institutions around me to concentrate instead on any perceived negative, no matter how slight? When, I asked myself, did I surrender idealism and embrace recrimination?
As I turned my focus toward introspection, it occurred to me that while it’s a coward who blames others for his iniquities, much of my lost optimism and idealism can be traced to poor choices on my part and the influence of those around me. Our world, it seems, is filled with two kinds of people: those who’ll do anything to “win” and those who refuse to sacrifice principle for the sake of gain.
Sadly, there are way more of the former than there are the latter. And, sadder yet, more and more of the latter group are finding themselves caught in the downward spiral of self-reinvention as they, frustrated, trade in their ideals for the allure of being counted among the “winners.”
When that happens, what we should be asking ourselves as we join the ranks of the self-promoters and the unscrupulous is at what cost do we sell ourselves out? What price are we willing to pay to feed the insecurities that make us doubt even good people’s best intentions? Where are those proverbial better angels that guided us before we gave in to the cynicism?
They tell us as parents, we’re responsible for our children’s education: Crosby, Stills and Nash reminded us back in 1970 to, “Teach your children well.”
But for those of us who are paying attention to the little ones we bring into the world, there are times when we have to be intelligent enough — humble enough — to realize that life doesn’t always play out neatly to some pre-approved script. In fact, sometimes, as the saying goes, the script is flipped.
That’s when we realize that, if we’re paying attention, we can often learn as much from our children as they learn from us.
Email Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.