The seriousness of a child
“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”
There’s a lot of talk about how childhood is magical and carefree, and I agree that it was (or is) a wondrous time for many of us. Yet even with the most advantageous childhood, I think the first decade of life is also quite difficult. As adults we may forget the utter powerlessness we often felt at having so many aspects of our lives decided without our input.
In particular, I can remember feeling frustrated that activities meaningful to me were often insignificant to grownups. To a child, “fun” and “serious” are not mutually exclusive, but sometimes we forget that as we grow older. As a result, we may disregard the need to set aside unscheduled time to spend in preferred activities, not just for our children, but for ourselves.
It’s crucial, of course, to learn the inevitable lessons that come with maturity (how many of us were justifiably told “It’s only a GAME!” when we were in tears over losing at board games or ball games?) but sometimes we learn unintended parallel lessons that don’t necessarily serve us as adults. Focused on productivity and controlled by clocks, we often multi-task ourselves in pursuit of the urgent or “important” to the point that we lose sight of more essential goals.
The state of optimal awareness that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and other psychologists have described as “flow” seems much more apparent in a young person absorbed in building with Legos or shooting baskets than it does in a harassed, hurried adult rushing from one obligation to another. Not that we always have a choice about that. But it’s worth consideration, if only to prompt us to re-think our schedules now and then, and assign a higher priority to those interests that captivate our minds in a way that all children seem able to understand.
What did you most enjoy doing in childhood? What is fun for you? I hope you will find some time, today or soon, to re-capture the alert focus of a child at serious play.
One year ago today