Children have a way of cutting through the fake and getting to the real. They look around themselves and wonder why things are the way they are. Sometimes the questions they ask are tamped down, leading those kids to spend their adult lives trying to answer them:
Why can’t boys cry?
Why do we have to always pretend to be happy? (Or, to put it another way, What’s wrong with having lots of different emotions?)
Why can’t I play with those children?
Why are you lying?
Why must I accept things that seem wrong?
In this brilliant essay by Courtney E. Martin, she asks ‘What was your first question?’and taps into the power that comes from looking at the world with innocent eyes, OUR own innocent eyes. Dorothy Day, for instance, witnessed an outpouring of love and charity after the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 and wondered, why don’t people care for each other like that all the time. She went on to make that her life’s work in the Catholic Worker Movement. Susan Cain showed up at camp with books and wondered what’s wrong with wanting to be quiet. She went on to write the book Quiet about society’s preference for the extroverted. Oprah Winfrey, sexually abused as a child, went on to constantly unveil the light and dark of human existence asking, “What’s the cathartic story here?”
That child question is powerful. Things we may have gotten used to over time or now just accept as the way things are weren’t so simple to the little child in you who wondered why.
In some ways, these questions are so powerful because they are asked from such a pure place. Children are famously intuitive about underlying dynamics that adults assume they couldn’t possibly understand. They focus in on unspoken truths like homing pigeons and then have the audacity to speak them; the world hasn’t yet acculturated them to fearing the sound of a silence breaking. They are not, in the best of all possible ways, team players. They are inexhaustible witnesses and truth seekers.
Which is what we all are, underneath the home training and the wear and tear of decades of living on this brutal planet. Peel back the layers and we are still the little people we once were, looking around at the adults and wondering what the heck is going on. We are curious and outraged and perhaps sometimes naively sure that there is a better way.
So what was your first question? What is the question you weren’t allowed to ask as a kid? Are you still asking that question? Is there some way, now that you are an adult, that you can answer it, or at least expose it to the light of day?