I’ve always been a people watcher, for it’s how we learn about others. Our recent trip to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, presented a perfect opportunity to watch people. Over a week, I sat and observed hundreds of children interact with exhibits, rides, parents, and park employees. There were children from across the country and across the world – Southern, Western, and Northern; Mexican, Indian, and Japanese. While every person is unique and every culture has its own focus, I found that most children are mostly the same.
I must preface this article by observing that, when I speak of children being the same, I mean children in their natural state. Children who have been exposed to the world have already begun to learn about adult life through observation while simultaneously unlearning their childlike qualities. These naturally become desensitized to their childlike nature in imitation of adults. By this, I don’t mean that children are naturally good and become evil (in fact, the opposite is often true). Rather, I am speaking of learning about society, about others as opposed to themselves, about how to respond to the choices of others, and about how to get along with others. These are all learned behaviors that result from growing independence. Children who have not been exposed to the adult world lack experience and tend to fall back on the guidance and provision of their parents and the simple views that occur without guidance. This is their natural state, and children grow out of it as they change. The rate of this change varies widely. What is amazing is that, for those who have not yet grown up, there is surprising consistency in their characteristics.
There are several qualities that define the reactions of children, no matter what culture or background. One is that children are naturally curious. That is, they try to learn about the world about them. Adults tend to believe themselves knowledgeable (even when they aren’t), and thus are less receptive to new information. They try to shoehorn new information into existing categories. Children have no categories and therefore are open to new ways of thinking. They also more willingly seek out new information. The children I saw in Orlando were discovering new experiences, trying new things, and getting the full experience. Older children and adults simply wandered from one attraction to another without paying much attention to them. They were seeking something exciting or shocking. The children learned even from ordinary experiences. They were happy with very simple rides because they provided new experiences without having to be shocking.
Another quality I saw among children I saw as that they were humble. By this, I don’t necessary mean self-deprecating but rather unaware of divisions that are the natural results of the adult world. Most children do not pay attention to wealth, status, race, nationality, or other divisions because these are external and artificial constructs. They are learned behavior. Thus, while adults tended to congregate based on these artificial social divisions, children were unaware of these divisions. In fact, they are unaware of themselves and didn’t normally think of themselves in terms of race or money. They were willing to play together, communicate to each other, share, and help others without regard to societal divisions because they simply did not pay attention to them. Meanwhile, adults tended to be less sympathetic toward those not in their own group – they cut in lines, refused to help people, and spoke to others only when engaged. Children are usually the ones who are willing to cut across societal divisions.
Finally, I observed that most children had greater faith. While those of an atheistic mindset may interpret this to mean that they are too trusting or obedient, I am referring more to an attitude of believing, which is not exactly the same. Adults may see believing as being more gullible, but of course from a child’s point of view adults are full of doubt, wavering, and dissimulation when they encounter something they can’t explain. Children believe in fairies, not because someone told them, but because spiritual explanations occur to them naturally until they learn to doubt. This is because they can imagine the existence of the supernatural, while many adults cannot. Thus, children I saw reacted with wonder at the idea of magic. They believe that such things are possible. For adults, it was all a big game. Rides give the children the illusion of flying because they can imagine it. They can only provide adults a sensation of flying and then only when they include intense movements such as loops. Using their imaginations, children can experience flying without such stimulation because of their higher level of faith.
Christ once said that we have to be as little children to even enter the kingdom of God. In other words, we have to be naturally curious about the truth, humble enough not to let division keep us from loving each other, and believing enough that we can accept miracles without doubting. We have to be like the hundreds of children I saw in Orlando. All children exhibit these same qualities. We would do well to imitate them if we are to become spiritual people.
© 2021 J.D. Manders