Let's Digress

Thinking Like a Child: How to Revolutionize the World

This was originally intended to be a private journal entry, but after much debating, I have decided that some of my thoughts shouldn’t stay in my head and need to be plastered on the Internet. 


Independence Day was last Friday. I watched fireworks with my family after I got off work and ended up meeting an interesting person. I didn’t fully realize it then, but now, two days later, the gears in my head are spinning at a hundred miles an hour.

We watched the fireworks from an open parking lot by the fairgrounds. Most of my family and half of my cousins were there, along with some of my mother’s friends. Behind us sat an older couple who brought their 7-year-old granddaughter with them.

I had no idea who those people were, but my mother knew them as acquaintances somehow.

Being the overly outgoing introvert that I am (I’m not a social butterfly at all whatsoever), I walked over to my mother to not-so-subtly ask her who the older people were (with them obviously within earshot).

Right about when I got to my mom, the 7-year-old walked up to my mom and started talking. I guess they had met before because she new my mother’s name. My mother introduced us; her name was Clara.

I said hi and then casually asked her the question. Yes, the tail question.

She said she wanted a “black fluffy sheep tail stump after the long tail falls off.” Then she had a follow up question for me: “If you could be a fish, what kind of fish would you be?” Naturally, I said a catfish (so I would finally have facial hair and awesome barbs on my extremities so I could poke unsuspecting people).

She was quite the sarcastic and imaginative 7-year-old.

After those two questions were asked, I realized that at some point over the past 2 minutes I had sat down on the grass and noticed that she was sitting next to me asking questions and telling me her life story. It wasn’t a long story, mind you, but it was very detailed, especially coming from a 7-year-old.

Remember, I had absolutely no idea who this girl was. I hadn’t met her before that night, and she and her grandparents were only acquaintances with my mother. And for some reason, she was talking to me like she’d known me for a long time.

I was told later that it was very out of character for her to talk openly to a stranger like that. Apparently she’s usually more skeptical, shy, and closed off when it comes to talking to people she doesn’t know. Maybe my tail question mixed with my delightfully awkward demeanor was disarming or something, I don’t know. That’s not important.

She asked me some more questions; what kind of tree I would be, what my favorite firework was, what my job was, if I could say “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (I totally nailed it! I’m just glad I wasn’t asked how to spell it), if I could do advanced math, what kind of breakfast cereal I would be, etc.

She asked so many questions that her grandparents eventually told me to send her away if she got annoying. She didn’t get annoying; kids are never annoying when they’re entertaining.

I mentioned something about aliens and asked how old she was when she learned to speak in sarcasm. She said it was a genetic thing she was born with. More sarcasm, I assume.

I recently read Boundaries With Kids, a book by Dr. Henry Cloud about parenting, childrearing, and how to do it well while staying on the same page with your spouse. No, I don’t have any kids and I’m very single. I just read books like that for fun. I don’t know why. But armed with my newfound parental-esk knowledge, I decided to ask Clara some ethical questions, just to see what she would say. Most of my questions were “gray” issues that, obviously, get a lot of gray answers from adults.

Her answers didn’t disappoint.

I asked her a lot of questions about right and wrong, what people should do in certain situations, and how she felt about squirrels.

One of the questions I had asked was, what should we do if aliens invaded earth and started committing crimes and whatnot. She asked for more backstory as to why they invaded us, what crimes they were committing, how many, what kind of extraterrestrials they were, etc. She told me to pick a different question because the alien one didn’t make sense.

Really, with all of my questions she asked for a lot of details. She wanted to know everything about it; she was doing her homework before formulating her opinion and deciding on a course of action. Smart.

The one that stuck with me most though was when I asked her about theft and if it was okay or not.

She didn’t ask for any details on this one. None.

She simply said, “No, it’s not okay. Stealing is wrong.”

Intrigued by her quick answer and lack of follow-up questions, I asked, “What if it’s for a good reason, like to help somebody or something? Is it ok then?”

Her answer to this one was even better than the previous answer; “Does it belong to them? No. It’s still wrong and they should find another way to fix their problem.”

I was at a loss for words.

I’m a black and white thinker. As in, there is very little gray in my world. Most of the heavy, morality-laden quandaries that plague people are pretty cut-and-dry for me. So, to hear such a clinical sounding answer from a 7-year-old surprised me, to say the least. And happy.

I know that my black and white mindset is an anomaly in our current society, especially for 20-somethings, which I am (25, to be specific). It’s an oddity, and I’ve only met a handful of people who are genuinely black and white thinkers that actually live their life that way.

I also know that a lot of children are concrete thinkers (I learned that from back when I taught 5th and 6th graders) and when asked “gray” ethical questions, they’ll oftentimes answer in concrete, fact-based terms…or they’ll answer with something completely random and off the wall, which makes things even more entertaining.

And, still, some of the older kids will answer by repeating something they heard on Disney that was the answer to a similar question from an episode, not fully understanding how or why that answer was what it was. They don’t actually know; they just hear and repeat.

But with Clara, her answers were different. She understood, she processed the question, and then formulated her opinions and answers.

She was a black and white thinker.

I realize that her thinking might change as she gets older and starts to learn more, but for her age right now, she’s brilliant.

All of this has led me to wonder, when do we stop being black and white thinkers?

Does it happen suddenly, all at once? Or is it a little bit over time, once we begin learning how to truly rationalize and justify things to fit our wants and whims?

I theorize that if we would keep a more black and white mindset, similar to that of a child, we wouldn’t have nearly as many ethical issues and dilemmas like we have now as adults.

I know it’s easier said than done, having the courage and boldness to label “wrong” as “wrong” and “right” as “right” and to actually follow through and live out our actions and beliefs…

Much easier said than done.

It involves judging, drawing boundaries, follow through, and, oftentimes, a lonely and difficult walk.

Thinking like a 7-year-old could revolutionize the world.

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