I recently came across one of my old diaries from when I was nine years old, and while reading my accounts of a vacation to Mexico, I concluded that children aren’t much different from adults. Although the diary dated back to almost a decade ago (it’s a miracle that I still have it), reading my simple sentences and blunt descriptions somehow brought me back to the moment. I vividly remember how the ocean had too much seaweed, how beautiful the sunset was, how delicious the “Mexican Pancakes” were. And I’m certain that, if I were to go back and relive the same experience as my older self, I would have felt the exact same emotions I had as a nine-year-old. Maybe these emotions would now be dressed up in much fancier language within my thoughts and writing, and maybe I would understand the greater implications and impact of my experiences as I battle with the mental baggage of memories that gets heavier each year, but deep with my soul I would be the exact same person.
When we are born, our brain possesses the greatest amount of neurons it will ever have: 100 billion, ready to be used. But they are incredibly weak and inexperienced, just like their landlord. Over time, the brain expands are the neurons get bigger and use the plethora of new environmental stimuli and input to create trillions of neural connections. Repeated stimuli increase speed and efficiency of neurotransmitters, and we get better and better at living. When at first out bodies had been driven by pure human instinct in order to survive, we learn by imitation and our freedom of thought and action expands. Generally, our sensory perception of the world stays the same throughout most of our lives. Our visual, sensory and auditory receptors work in the same ways when we are children as when we are adults. Yet our perceptions of the world change significantly. Some might say that knowledge and wisdom are responsible for this change, but I think it’s a bit different.
There’s a popular saying that “knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” Essentially, then, wisdom is developed from the rational application of knowledge and experience. Wisdom is a debated topic, though. Some say wisdom comes from knowing that you have none. Others say that it comes from understanding that there is no such thing as knowledge. But it’s almost always associated with getting older and gaining experiences that cannot be learned from books. It’s almost like mathematics. You can memorize the formulas, equations, and rules all you want, but true understanding of math only comes when you can solve problems. My definition of wisdom is the justified understanding that there are no true rules within humanity; that there is no right way to define the world but also understanding it’s uncertainty. This means, then, that adults aren’t very wise, but children potentially could be.
When, for example, a child sees his parents for the first time, he has no knowledge that there are millions of similar smiling parents out there, hovering over their child’s crib. When a child falls off her red tricycle and skins her knees, she doesn’t know that her experience as an iconic image that is very commonly associated with growing up. When a child feels a deep sense of loss when she is separated from her parents for the very first time, she does not know that this is a natural neurological response granted to her through evolution. In short, a child’s view of the world is very, very narrow. Every moment of their lives is special to them. They don’t know that their lives fit into some greater statistic or trend. They don’t over-analyze or over-think or see the world on the basis of facts and figures learnt from books. They don’t make sweeping generalizations about humanity in order to appear smart around their peers, nor do they try to put a reason or label on everything that happens to them.They see the world only through their eyes. Stuff just happens. Maybe that is why children seem to be very happy. Maybe a bit naive and clueless, but happy.
But what ultimately makes children and adults so similar? Emotions. When I was a child, I thought adults never cry and that they never feel sad, lost, or confused. But they do, obviously. The same sadness I had felt when I was young and had just lost my favorite toy comes back when I now lose something much more important. The same rush of excitement I had felt going down slides in the park is the same feeling I get when I rock climb. The calm I felt playing under the old pine tree in my backyard is the same calm I now feel when I read books or draw. Even though we try to hide these emotions by qualifying them with knowledge – the inevitability of less, the dangers of rock climbing, the time “wasted” reading- the emotions never go away. Greater knowledge of the real world is the only thing that prevents me from writing in my diary “today was a good day, the only bad thing is that I got a little sunburnt,” or that “the fishes in the ocean were beautiful, I wish I could swim further and see more of them,” or “I want to stay here forever” and genuinely mean it.
Adults are just big kids who know too much.