January 30, 2011

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

This is one of my favorite little quips, courtesy of Pablo Picasso. The reason I like it so much is the way most adults react to external influences. Most adults seem to have some sort of cognitive or social bias that I can’t name. It’s the “here we go again” syndrome. It’s a combination of raw pessimism, a bad reaction to any little thing that goes wrong, and negative reactions to every story they see on TV, especially in politics. It’s always easier to collectively call “them” idiots than it is to do anything constructive yourself.

The closest things I’ve found are pessimism bias, reactance, and hostile media effect. If anyone has a better or more accurate name for what I’m trying to describe, I’d love to hear it.

An example, the other day I was unfortunately at a car dealership. The salesman decided it would be congenial to make small talk with “if I can get this stupid computer to show me anything, we’ll take a look.” He then gave me a knowing half-smile and, I’m sure, expected me to chuckle in agreement.

Kids never act like this. Adults that do have grown up to learn “life is hard.” They never asked, like Voltaire, “compared to what?” The people I am most fond of are the ones who never learned it, who have kept their (sometimes irrational) childlike outlook. They’re happier, more pleasant to be around, more inquisitive, and usually wiser.

Picasso has another quip that tells us why this is important:

“Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again. And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.”

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