Sunday, May 23, 2004

We all fear "running off"....

Today, while shopping at King Soopers (our local Kroger grocery store), the frantic and scolding voices of parents reprimanding their child caught my ear.

"You know better than to run off! You scared us to death! What were you thinking?"

As I rounded the corner, I noticed that the child in question was probably three or four years old - that special and fleeting age wherein everything and everybody is a new experience, a new adventure, and a wondrously fresh experience. That age where we dream of running barefoot over mountains just to see what lies beyond. Maybe a unicorn is just over the ridge... maybe waterfalls that glisten with every color of the rainbow and splash gold, green, and purple droplets on the surrounding flowers (which are made of bubble gum and sugar sweets of course.)

Now, it has long been a pet peeve of mine that Americans have lost our innate desire to "think outside the box." This manner of creativity and imagination is one of the many corporate catch-phrases for someone who is by nature unconfined by the status quo. Speakers are paid thousands upon thousands of dollars by major corporations to teach employees how to "think outside the box." Obviously, it was someone thinking outside the box who discovered that you didn't need vinyl in order to reproduce sounds... or that a sewing needle with the "eye" at the pointed end would make the sewing machine possible. (see this story for an interesting take on how this particular invention came about - ) All the greatest inventions and innovations have come from "thinking outside the box... ALL of them!

Our entire country was built by men like Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and Monroe who (by the standards of the day) thought so far outside the box that they were labeled "idealists" "eccentric" or just outright "insane." Our culture, that unique amalgamation of freedom and tolerance, of ingenuity and non-conformist attitudes - created the most advanced civilization the world has ever known... however, we have lost that creative edge.

This brings us back to my encounter with the young family. Could it be through our over-protectiveness of our children that we stifle our natural instincts to go beyond? Do we give to our children (at the ripe age of 5 or so) a fear of the unknown? We warn them of the dangers of bicycle riding without a helmet... even though riding a bike is hardly the most dangerous thing they will do on a daily basis... we tell them not to talk to strangers, even though approaching and listening to those we are unfamiliar with is the ONLY way we can become truly empathetic to the beliefs and feelings of others... we tell them to stay close and not get lost, even though exploration and discovery is in our very nature.

It seems to me, that if the parents in the store had been as focused on their child as they were on which brand of toothpaste was on sale, that they could have watched her explore an entirely new world. They could have enjoyed the wonder and excitement in her eyes, and taught her a valuable lesson that exploring is okay... 'cause mom and dad will be there to watch and make sure you are okay until you can venture on your own. We are essentially teaching our children to look after themselves because it is too much of a hassle for us to do it. It was not the child's responsibility to "not wander off." It was the parent's job to keep a watchful eye on her. The parents failed that task, so what happens? They yell at the little girl. No wonder we need to unlearn what is drilled into our heads at so young an age... namely... stay within the box, 'cause I don't wanna' hafta' go looking for you.

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