There's a certain charm to naivety. It's 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, though the ratio of wonder to acknowledged reality rapidly diminishes as we age, from nearly 100 percent on the child’s end of the scale to almost none 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 once it is proven untrue. It simply does not occur to children
that something they are told is true is in fact not. Why, after all, would anyone lie? Worse, they have no idea of the dangers inherent in their belief. Reality is a lesson learned the hard way, and all too soon.
When I was around four years old, my parents took me to a carnival several blocks from our home. It was the first carnival I'd ever attended, 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. It is taken from 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 too often to the same end.
We feel cheated to realize that those things we so believed and trusted as true were not true, and 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 for another blog—or several—its contrast to innocence can be summed up in Oscar Wilde's observation that “a cynic is one who, when smelling a flower, looks for a casket.”
I truly want to believe in things, and in people. I always try to give them the benefit of the doubt, and generally manage to do so even when I have rather serious doubts. When I meet someone who tells me something that sounds untrue, I quickly 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.
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?
Those who somehow manage to retain some form of the charms of naivety and innocence in the face of the harshness of reality have a very real gift, for those two qualities are fundamental ingredients of hope, without which we are all lost.