My wife and I watched as the little boy, maybe 5 years old, slowly moved toward our 6-year-old daughter at the public swimming pool.
He clearly had his eyes on her assortment of dive rings. She’d been throwing them herself, then diving to the bottom of the shallow pool to recover them. She loves playing with those colorful rings, throwing them and chasing them. Easily they’re her favorite pool toy.
The boy humbly asked her if he could play with the diving rings too. We watched intently, unsure what would happen next. It turns out the woman who was probably his mother, sitting nearby, was interested too, as she told him not to bother the girl.
Our little girl happily invited him to play. For much of the next half hour, they tossed those rings out into the pool for each other, letting the other person seek and retrieve them from the bottom of the water.
I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen when they’re 20 years older. If another adult walks up to you and invites himself to play with your belongings, how would you react?
I’d react defensively. I’d be standoffish. I’d wonder where he got the mistaken belief he could touch my things.
I’d react incorrectly.
Items like these dive rings are meant to be shared. They’re meant to be enjoyed. I was proud to see her share those toys, even though I know I’d react exactly opposite of that.
The next day, we grabbed some ice cream and stopped at a park to enjoy it. When she finished hers, she headed over to the swing set.
That’s when she noticed a similarly aged girl sitting by herself on a bench by the playground. She walked up to her to say hi. Seconds later, they were instant pals, chasing each other around the playground equipment and playing games together.
I wouldn’t have done any of those things. I would’ve continued to sit apart, remaining a stranger forever.
I know where my paranoia comes from. It’s a dangerous world out there, and it’s wise to have some defenses up when you’re out in public.
At what point have we lost our ability to be human, though? Clearly from watching our future first-grader, we’re designed for relationships with other people. We’re programmed to seek out others and try to engage them.
Somewhere in the 40-year difference in our ages, society taught me to turn off those instincts. I learned to react defensively. I learned to be standoffish. I learned incorrectly.
We could all learn a thing or two from the children in our lives.