5 Lessons from a 5 Year OldAnja van Kralingen
I have heard it said that our children are our greatest teachers.
I’m not sure if that’s always true, I would like to believe I know more now than I did as a kid- so doesn’t that make me the teacher, rather than the student? Still, I have to concede, sometimes the exceptional happens, and a child comes along that does teach you. And when that happens it is both humbling and inspiring.
Ruarc Alexander Farah, 5 years old, and my son, has appointed himself as my teacher and I have become his grateful pupil. Before I share five lessons he has taught me, I would like to tell you a story about the knowledge we are born with and then later forget.
A little boy of 4 years old found out that his mother was pregnant. His parents made a big fuss about it and wanted him to bond with the unborn baby as soon as possible. The little boy did not seem adverse to this idea, and along with his parents shared a keen anticipation for the big day.
He asked his parents one favour. When mother and baby returned from the hospital he would like a private audience with the newborn child. And when the time indeed arrived and mother and baby came home, he reminded his parents of this request which they had promised to grant.
He wanted to speak to the baby alone. His parent agreed, but with the best of intentions could not resist listening intently at the slightly ajar door, to what the little boy would say to the newborn infant.
The young boy approached his younger sibling and standing next to her cradle he spoke.
‘Please can you tell me what you are here for?’ he asked. ‘I know I was born with a purpose, but have forgotten what it was. Please can you remind me? Seeing as it is you first day here I know you cannot have forgotten yet.’
What do you think? It’s a sweet story isn’t it? And I think it conveys a real human truth ‘ for my part, I knew on a deeper and more intuitive level, many things as a young boy which today I have to work hard at remembering and frequently relearning.
Anyway with that to the lessons, not all of which are necessarily to the young man’s advantage.
The Five Lessons
1) Rationalisation, what I have noticed with Ruarc is that everything has a reason. Nothing occurs which cannot be explained, including his own sometimes mysterious behaviour. Whatever he does if you ask him directly afterwards, he will provide a perfect rational answer. Even when to me as an adult is quite apparent he has no clue as to why he has done what he has done
He always knows and can explain rationally why such and such has happened or he has acted in a certain way- even when this answer is a fiction. He frames his answer with the word d’why which for the uninformed means do you know why?
Observing this makes me ask the question how often do you or I do the same thing? Explain a mystery with a rationalisation. Assert that we know the reason we have acted in a particular fashion when the truth is we haven’t a clue. I don’t think it is act limited to children; it is simply that as an adult the child’s rationalisation is sufficiently transparent that we can see through it. But I suspect as adults we frequently fall prey to the same illusion simply with greater artifice.
2) Justification; Ruarc loves his dad, he really does. To the extent that his favours his dad with his affections over his mother he feels the need to justify this. So he will say,
‘Mom, d’why I love dad more?’
And then depending on the day, and what comes to mind, he will provide a reason. Different day’s different reasons. Until one day his mom said to him,
‘Ruarc its okay to love dad more- you don’t need a reason. You don’t need to explain and it doesn’t change how much I love you.’
At this the young man was visibly relieved, and has subsequently stopped trying to explain this most irrational of phenomenon his capacity for love. This made me question where and how am I justifying myself, where there is no need or purpose served by that justification. I think we are prone to this need to justify, even when the justification obscures the truth; whatever that truth may be.
3) Speak to the Doctor; Ruarc, spent much of last year listening to his mom refer to ‘the doctor’, in reference to various doctors she was obliged to consult throughout the year. So he internalised the Doctor and now consults himself, in the form of the Doctor- whom, like his mom, he can cite as an authority figure.
So when he woke up at 4.00am one morning, he told me initially that it was ‘light time’ and as such time to get up. On discovering that in fact it was not ‘light time’ but ‘dark time’ he was still obliged to rise, and have his poor, tired, father put the TV on for him and get him some juice and breakfast, because, on consulting the Doctor, he informed me that: ‘the Doctor said Ruarc should not sleep too long but only a little bit’.
And it must be said that Ruarc’s doctor is both conscientious and fastidious, regularly informing Ruarc of various important medical facts- at least as they apply to Ruarc; from the correct temperature for his bath water, to what to eat and what not to eat, to when it is a good time to swim, when it’s time to stop swimming and so on.
He is internally referenced- his inner light to burns brighter than the light of the outer world. There is a valuable gift, if one can acquire it, in today’s world, when the information age constantly encroaches and frequently overwhelms our inner world.
4) Wear your heart on your sleeve; well that’s what Ruarc does anyway. I was taught the opposite, that it is inappropriate to wear my heart on my sleeve. With Ruarc there is no disguising his feelings. And like his name (which is Gallic for sea storm), often his emotions run high. He can be blissful one moment and in tears the next, his transitions from one state to another are seamless and fluid. But in this real charisma and authenticity are communicated.
I suspect that the tempering of our emotional states to fit in with societal norms has the effect of dampening those feelings within us, and ultimately decreasing our capacity for feeling. I’m not exactly sure what the ideal solution is- certainly if we were as emotionally unmediated as Ruarc it would be a very strange world to live in !
Nevertheless the constant suppression of these emotions seems to me to reduce the quality of our lives, and to construct a false mask which covers our true and deepest feelings. And in a child one sees a joy which I think we are all capable of, but in our politeness have forgotten.
5) Live with passion; boy if there is one thing I can say about Ruarc is he lives life to the full. From the moment he wakes up until the moment he falls asleep he embraces life. He hasn’t been beaten down with fear, disappointment or disillusionments. He attacks life with vigour and fearlessness, whether he is running scared from a dog (he’s terrified of dogs ), doing some crazy acrobatics, helping his mom around the house, playing, making friends or telling you how much he loves you.
He gives 100% of himself all day, every day- I think that’s probably the way it should be done, and for my part I aspire to live my life with this kind of passion, fearlessness and love.
Until next time.