I overhead this conversation while standing in line at an airport Starbucks:
Little red-head boy: Taps shoulder of girl in front of him. Hi, what’s your name?
Little blonde-haired girl: Amelia. What’s yours? And why are you wearing Spiderman?
Little red-head boy: I’m Ian. I have Spiderman everything. Spiderman is all over my room and look at my Spiderman bookbag. Ian turns around to show off his sweet bag, clearly something he had asked for for Christmas, his birthday, or July 4th.
Little blonde-haired girl: Oh. Do you like Batman, too?
Little red-head boy: No. Who’s Batman? I love Spiderman. I even painted my walls Spiderman.
I chuckled to myself, and then imagined what that conversation would look like if it existed in adult-land. We’re all standing here, pretending not to notice each other, typing on our phones or looking over the menu for the 47th time, acting as if none of us exist.
Tall red-haired man: Hey there, you’re a stranger in line in front of me. What’s your name?
Blonde woman, looking baffled that a stranger is talking to her: Um, Jenny, what’s yours?
Tall red-haired man: Tim. Why are you wearing that purple dress?
Blonde woman, clearly offended: I’m sorry what? (But really thinking, Why are you staring at my dress?)
Tall red-haired man: Oh, I’m sorry, I just think it’s a pretty dress. Didn’t mean to offend you.
Blonde woman, attempting to end the conversation: It’s okay. Have a great day! (Obviously an inappropriate remark and no way to continue the conversation, but something we’ve just learned to say to cut things off.)
…and you see my point. Kids clearly win when it comes to talking to strangers, striking up conversation with those they do not know, and asking questions about things that would otherwise be offensive (unless you’re 3, of course).
One of my friends, Lyndsey, is a kindergarten teacher. She told me last summer that the most rewarding time for her is around Martin Luther King Jr. day. I found that surprising–not because I don’t love MLK (we all know I do), but because it’s only one day off school vs. say, winter break. She brushed off my question and said, “No, you don’t understand. I have to explain to the kids why it even exists, why MLK did what he did, and why people would ever hate people because of the color of their skin. They don’t understand, their little minds cannot comprehend it. They’re all different races and colors and none of them can fathom why that would make anyone hate someone else.”
Most of us can remember when the tide turned in elementary school–and the social rules of nerdy, girl scout, popular, and geek became more clearly defined. That was only the beginning of a dynamic that unfortunately continues to grow into adulthood. I’m finding–now more than ever–that social rules still apply. Sit up straight. Don’t ask questions that make people squirm. Say only shallow things, go with the flow of traffic, and don’t ruffle feathers. If gossip is happening, don’t challenge it–what else are we going to talk about? Don’t cross boundary lines. Don’t mix your worlds together. And, my least favorite: Why would you ever be friends with someone who is in a different life stage than you? They don’t know anything.
In these ways, I long for childhood sometimes. Who cares if you disagree about how our country is run? That’s not going to affect the way we play Nintendo together. Why does it matter if we’re into different things? We can all play Crazy Eights.
When I was little, I spent most summers on my grandparents’ lake house in Cadiz, Kentucky… a small, tiny little town in Western Kentucky. Our whole family showed up. Most of the cousins were around the same age, and we always played together. We made up skits to put on for the adults, water-skied, went tubing, played Nintendo and silly card games, etc. And for the life of me, I can’t ever remember thinking, “Wow, we see the world very differently, I doubt we will be friends.” Thinking back on it, none of us really had anything in common, but we didn’t know that. Nor did we care.
How stupid is that? How backwards that we older we get, the less we know how to sit across the table from someone with a different worldview than us? That as we grow older, we really just grow more narrow, making our worlds smaller and smaller and select the people we want to influence us or invite into our every day lives?
I doubt this is what Jesus ever meant when he talked about having childlike faith. Surely even He knew how silly and childish adults can be. That’s the kind of childish way I long for–being able to keep conversation with a stranger, love people without judgment, and know how to play Monopoly with someone that sees the world a lot differently.