There is a certain charm to naivety. It is part and parcel of being a child, for whom absolutely anything is possible and everything he or she is told is automatically assumed to be true. There is an element of naivety in any source of wonder, and the ratio of wonder to realization gradually slides from nearly 100 percent on the child’s end of the scale to almost zero for the totally jaded.
The naivety of belief in Santa and fairies and elves and magical things is a precious gift, looked back upon fondly and with longing even after those beliefs are proven untrue. It simply does not occur to children that something they are told is true is in fact not. Worse, they have no idea of the dangers that lie in their belief.
When I was around four, my parents took me to a carnival several blocks from our home. It was probably my first carnival, and I was enthralled. Less than half an hour after we returned home, my parents looked for me, and I was gone. Guess where? They found me just getting ready to cross a busy intersection across the street from the carnival, having already crossed others on the way. That I might easily have been killed simply never entered my head. Why would it? I had no concept of death or danger.
Naivety and innocence are strongly interrelated. One generally enters life with both, and too often leaves with neither. Reality tends to rob us of innocence and sour our naivety. We feel cheated to realize that those things we were told were not true, but the more important those things were to us, the more integral they were to forming who we are, the more cheated we feel, and the more bitter we tend to become. We turn from being plump, shiny red apples to dried-apple-core people. And while cynicism is the subject of a future blog, its contrast to innocence can be summed up in a quote whose source I cannot remember: “a cynic is one who, when noticing the scent of flowers, looks for a casket.”
I want to believe in things. I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I generally manage to do so even when I have rather serious doubts. When someone tells me something that sounds untrue, I simply examine it for signs of hatred or bigotry and, if I see no harm to me or anyone else in accepting it, I just let it slide. If it is important for the teller that I believe it, and it makes him/her feel better, I don’t see much point in confronting it.
Naivety leaves us in a couple of ways…either replaced by reality in a slow process of osmosis, or stomped out of us, too often by those who have no morals, scruples, conscience, or dignity, but can smell naivety like a shark can smell blood and react to it like sharks.
And for some reason I’m not able to understand, as we grow older, a mutated and dangerous form of naivety seems to return, and the sharks circle. How can the elderly suddenly seemingly simply abandon every caution they have learned throughout life and fall victim to astoundingly egregious scams promising something wonderful for nothing?
Innocence and naivety are marched through the furnace of reality, but that which manages to survive is transformed into mankind's greatest asset, hope, without which life would have no meaning.
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