Imagine the majority of adults presented in The Little Prince, or similar stories seemingly intended for children.
These adults aren’t presented as wise, thoughtful individuals. They are bureaucratic busybodies, foolishly caught up in their own self-importance and misguided sense of decorum.
A king with no subjects, a businessman who claims ownership of the stars, a geographer so brimming with theory he never has the time to explore. These are the absurd caricatures of the priorities of adult life. Intended, presumably, to remind us not to slip into such self-indulgence.
It’s easy to see such characters and mock their foolishness. I’d never let myself become like that, my young self would proclaim. The System may want me to be that, the Man may want me to be that, but I would never let myself go – I’d never let it be beneath my dignity to climb a tree, to borrow a phrase from Peter Pan.
But even as it’s easy to mock these caricatures, as a grown up living in the grown up world and dealing with grown up life – it’s just as easy to rationalize this behavior.
Well, no, you see, I can almost hear myself explaining, I have to light the lamp at night and extinguish the lamp during the day. It’s very important I do this – otherwise there’d be no light at night, you see?
And if someone innocently protested that I lived on an asteroid with 30 seconds of day and 30 seconds of night, in my little world of importance and facts and habits – I can easily imagine exclaiming back, Well, no, you see, I have to light the lamp at night and extinguish the lamp during the day…
I certainly hope I am not so far gone, but it strikes me that I cannot possibly both live my own life and simultaneously have an outsider’s perspective on whether my justifications are absurd.
When children complain, when young people push back, when those not considered full-access adults critique the system they have been so intentionally left out of – it’s easy for adults, those within the system, to nod and smile and tell themselves, well, no, you see…
It’s easy to tell yourself that you are right and they are foolish and that it’s really, really important you light this lamp, then extinguish it, then light it again.
If only they were important enough to understand.
That’s not to say that all children are wise and all adults are foolish. No, no, we are all fools in our own ways, I suppose.
But, indeed, I knew things in my youth that I do not know now. Just as I know things now I did not know in my youth.
I don’t have a time machine to give advice to my seven-year-old self, but I do have the ability to give advice to other seven-year-olds.
And, alas, I don’t have the ability to get advice from my seven-year-old self. To know how I would judge myself now from the perspective of when I was seven or seventeen.
But I do have the ability to get advice from other seven-year-olds, or seventeen-year-olds, or really any other age you can imagine.
They may find my life absurd. They may not. I may be tempted to nod and smile and tell myself, well, no, they don’t understand, they are too young…
But, really, if I were wise, I would stop my lamp lighting for a moment to really listen to their ideas. I would consider their opinions and criticize my justifications and really think about what they had to say.
And with any luck, I may just see that there is indeed wisdom in their words.