According to Socrates, “An honest man is always a child.” Embarrassingly, this is completely true … painfully so sometimes! I happen to have two children, and they happen to be brutally honest at the least-convenient of times. Once, when we were in Walmart, there was a young man with a black sweatshirt on in the line in front of us. His hood was up, he was fairly tall, and I paid him no notice whatsoever until, that is, my three-year old son (at the time) decided to shout, “Mom look! It’s a bad guy!”
From being a babysitter, to a nanny, to a teacher, to a mother, I’ve noticed a few indisputable truths about kids–they have no filters, and no boundaries. The immediate assumption is that this is bad, and I admit it has not necessarily served me well every time. My niece once made a point to tell me, when I came downstairs for breakfast, that I looked way better with my makeup on. To this, I had to smile and agree, because I know kids, and thus am not easily offended.
They don’t mean to be like they are, they’re just too innocent and honest to have let the world jade them into being politically correct. Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t continue with niceties and white lies … I fully expect my husband and best friends to continue to tell me I look great when I know I’m in troll-mode. But there is something endearing about the blatant honesty of kids you can’t get anywhere else. I was at my daughter’s dance class once, and a little girl, waiting with her mom came right up to me, pushed my side-braid off of my shoulder and proceeded to poke the freckles on my neck. “You have a lot of moles,” she said, continuing to examine me. I large smile lit my face.
“Actually, they’re freckles,” I told her.
“How do you know the difference?” she asked me.
“Well, freckles don’t pop out, moles do,” I scientifically explained.
“Oh … like that one?” she asked, poking my arm.
“Yes, exactly like that one.”
By this time, her mother (busy with her other child at the time) tuned in and apologized with flushed cheeks. But there was nothing to be sorry for, really. The girl was just being observant, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think we tend to be so immersed in our, “culture of correctness,” that we don’t always give people the chance to tell the truth. Sure, I don’t need anyone telling me how many freckles I have, but sometimes I wonder if people become so closed off because of the years and years we’ve spent training them into generic appropriateness. I wonder if people even know how to tell the unfiltered truth anymore.
You wouldn’t believe the look my middle school students give me the first day of class when I say, “I’m going to give you the next five minutes to ask me anything you’d like to know, just be prepared that after, I’ll get to ask you.” For the first three minutes at least, they just stare at me like, “can we get in trouble for this?” The younger grades don’t do this. They immediately come up with fantastic questions about my: age, height, weight, favorite color, favorite food, favorite animal (They’re into favorites, can you tell?) best friend, worst enemy, etc. The list goes on and on until we’ve spent way over ten minutes learning everything uninteresting about me. But the sweet thing is, to them, it isn’t uninteresting. It’s fascinating that someone (an adult no less) has opened the Pandora’s Box of opportunity to answer things they were told never to ask a grown up.
I think I’m writing about this today because I want you to remember what it feels like when someone takes a genuine interest in you. When someone gets past either their or your boundaries and tries to know more about you. Disconcerting as it may seem at first, it’s also kind of flattering. Everyone likes some attention, and many people would love to give it to you, but they feel afraid to–afraid they’ll cross some invisible line or go too far and that, in my opinion, is sort of sad.
You know why kids have so many friends? It’s because they don’t hold back. No filter, no boundaries, no problem. Dr. Seuss, a kid-genius gave this advice to youth, “Be who you are and say what you mean, because those who don’t mind matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” It is a refreshing thing to give a compliment, even if it seems uncomfortable at first. You’ll be remembered because of the generosity of your kind worlds. Or, when it feels like the right time, give that hug. Offer that prayer. Take that walk. Go out to lunch. You’ll never miss out by honestly enjoying someone’s company and breaking down the barriers that keep you from relationships with others.
I once told my students I didn’t wear orange because it looked terrible on me. A few months later, I had a burnt-orange shirt on beneath a sweater and one of my students said, “You’re right Mrs. H, you don’t look good in orange.” Hilarious (and true). Be real. Be honest. And be okay with others who take the chance to do the same.