Last Monday, I was pounding away on my laptop while sitting sideways on the couch, feet up. My 4-year-old little guy snuggled in beside me, smooshed between the back cushions of the couch and the side of my ribs. This is his favorite spot from which to watch me work, and he’s no trouble because he just quietly watches me type. It’s like having a warm and cushiony armrest.
After a little while, I noticed that he was breathing deeply. I asked, are you okay, sweetie? He said simply, “I like the smell of you.”
Over the weekend, we’d gone to a wedding and my husband put on his suit. This is a rarity. When he came downstairs, our little guy gasped and said, “Daddy, you look so beautiful!”
From an adult, we would have questioned the propriety of these statements. But, from a 4-year-old they are precious. 4-year-olds don’t think it's odd to comment on the way someone smells (when they’re not wearing cologne, that is) or to describe a man as beautiful (unless you’re a boy-crazy teenager), but most adults would re-word these thoughts before uttering them. Why is that? Children say exactly what they are thinking without censoring themselves with political correctness and social norms. They have endless confidence because they haven’t yet learned to try to shield themselves from failure. Everything in their world is experimental and learning-oriented, and failure is just a natural part of it. Certainly, we all need to learn to edit our inner monologues, letting out only what improves relationships and situations. This is part of being an adult. But, maybe, we edit too much. Maybe, we edit out the creativity and the impetus for change.
When was the last time you shared a still-fuzzy, crazy idea and just “talked it out” right on the spot? Do you jump in and contribute or mentally wordsmith until an opportunity to contribute has passed? How often do you ask a question or offer an opinion in a meeting even though you worry it might sound dumb or be unpopular? Do you dig deep and find the real truth when it is needed to prompt positive change? Are you willing to mix it up with people so that ideas are fully explored? Are you willing to tell your own personal stories for the benefit of others, even though disclosure makes you feel vulnerable? Do you address difficult issues even though it may alter the perceptions others have about you?
When I hit a certain age, a voice inside my head said, “Who cares what others think? You know your stuff, so stick to your guns! If niceness and positive spin obscure the goals, don't be nice! And, while you’re at it, take some responsibility for helping others to do the same.” Another friend describes it as no longer “suffering fools.”
So, I fired a few of my inner censors. And, yes, way too often I feel as if I’m sticking my neck out alone. But, if someone doesn’t demonstrate that being genuine, taking some risks, and respectfully disagreeing with others can be done without resultant catastrophe, how will anyone else ever feel safe enough to try? And how will we ever make changes if we’re too scared to discuss the real issues? Or dream up the breakthrough ideas if we are too afraid of failure? Or help others if we are too scared to look our own personal truth in the eye?
Take a chance. Rediscover you inner 4-year old amidst your grown-up insight and experience. Maybe by taking a step back toward childhood we can step that much closer to creativity and positive change.