By Ibtisaam Ahmed
Three big lessons from three little people.
My life is in a transitory phase and I find myself moving around a lot – like any 20 something year old without a nine to five. My upstairs neighbours make lots of noise, they scream, they’re demanding, they’re known to throw up and ask me the most random questions – but they’re also incredibly fun to be around. Even when they can’t be seen or heard, I know they’re there and sometimes I catch them on the stairs trying to make small talk with me. Sounds pretty standard, except these neighbours are eight, six and two years old. It’s been a while since I’ve been this close to children, observing their daily movements and suppressing my laughter at the outrageous things they have to say.
This piece is simply a reminder that children are doers and this is perhaps the greatest thing we can learn from them. They aren’t bogged down by abstract analysis and fear of isolation. My neighbours, in particular, have clearly been raised to be curious and open. They share easily and like all children, they love easily. Here are three things they do – things that as adults we have made unbelievably complex (at our peril).
Give what you have even if you think it’s not much
The ushering in of the fall ushered in a bad cold, I was in bed for a few days and really missing my old roommate who would always make me dhal – warm to soothe my throat and spicy to kick away the germs. When the kids found out I was sick, they begged their parents to give me “room service”. They came up with fantastical meals and were concerned about my health and well-being. Part of it was a game but part of it was a genuine desire to help someone in need. Beyond the five course meals of their imagination, the seven-year-old confidently told me he could make me a PBJ sandwich. Although already recovering, I felt touched that they were ready to assist and even the little notes I got under my door telling me to have a good day instantaneously changed my mood.
It is absurd that as adults we often withhold generosity under the guise of it being “silly”, “too small” or “not really helpful in terms of the big picture”.
I don’t know of anyone who would turn down a PBJ sandwich and I am reminded of the sweetness in the simplicity of offering my father or grandmother a cup of tea. This and countless other small acts are taken for granted or as part of a culturally imposed duty but their roots lie in that pure need and desire, located within the human being, to serve others.
Be excited over “small” things
I had never been apple picking before, and my neighbour invited me to go along to the apple orchids with her and the kids. When I arrived at their place, dressed in the classic autumnal wear of brown leather boots and a beige sweater, the two-year-old boy asked me where I was going. When I said I was going with them, he turned to his mother and asked: “Do I get to come too?” Her affirmative reply resulted in a reverberating and joyful “yay!” accompanied by blithesome clapping.
Something strange happens to us fully grown modern men and women that renders us blank receptors of daily events, exacerbating our own monotony by never considering just how fun a seemingly “ordinary” thing can be. Self-imposed arbitrary notions of what is and what isn’t supposed to fun have removed the big-eyed excitement and carefree merriment from our day-to-day existence and we are the lesser for it.
Ask the big questions
The first time I met the kids was a day in late August walking home from the bus stop and finding them playing on the swings of a nearby park. Enjoying the gentle sun of a late afternoon at the slow end of summer, I stayed a while, introduced myself and asked them the usual questions of age, school and hobbies. Midway between being told about their bus route, the six-year-old girl on the swing paused, looked up at me and asked: “Do you believe in God?” When I told her that I did, she said she did too before continuing with the tales of the playground.
I wonder what would happen if instead of talking using mundane and clichéd jargon, we went in for the kill by asking the questions that matter, even if they may make us uncomfortable. Our conditioning has taught us to steer clear of meaningful questions, lest they render us weirdos. I love discussing hard questions and practising the art of approaching challenging topics with nuance and empathy, so I’m going to try this technique that is simple in its approach and almost shocking in its impact –I’ll let you know how it goes.