Young and Fearless
Think back to a specific day in your childhood. Not a particularly adventurous, tragic, or otherwise memorable day. Just a regular day. Did you ride the bus to school? Did you swing on the swings at recess? Did you trade your Pringles for a pudding cup at lunch? There wasn't anything particularly significant about that day but it represents a lost era; a state of mind you will never be able to recreate. Kids are endlessly creative, whimsical, and innocent. Without the fear of failure initiated by a child's first experience with harsh peer critique, they're also fearless. They pursue their genuine interests, uninhibited by insecurity or business. But most of all, they are genuine. They don't have the necessary skills to hide anything, so they wear their emotions on their sleeve. If you spend any time with kids on a regular basis, you can see these qualities so evidently.
I've worked as a full-time nanny for the past 3 summers. In other words, I've had the opportunity to hang out with a lot of kids. I learned many things as a nanny, from even the snottiest, brattiest kids. I certainly learned about parenting, and the great responsibility of caring for children and protecting their innocence. But I also learned a lot about creativity.
Kid's creativity is influenced and enriched by play. Their job is to play - literally. It is critical for their sensory and cognitive development to dig in the dirt with their hands, play with their food at the table, and paint stick figures with their fingers. How much further development are we missing out on because of our lack of play? I believe we can still gain something (though it can't be quantified) from "play". Climb a tree, run around the block, bake a loaf of bread (even if its cheaper just to buy it.)
Who would dare to tell a child, "Don't color any more pictures. Your other drawings aren't selling on Etsy, so it's not really worth the cost of materials." This would be ridiculous! Kids draw because they want to draw, or because they have an idea. Can't it be the same for us?
Children are enabled to higher levels of creativity by their parents, who take care of their basic needs. Fueled by grilled-cheese and juice boxes, 7-year-olds can focus on more important things, like drawing the perfect, red treehouse. When they accidentally spill juice on the page, Mom is right there, with a paper towel, saying, "It's okay, honey. Here's a new page." I have a theory that we can learn from this partnership. What do any of us desire more in a best friend and/or spouse than someone who selflessly enables us to be creative? Someone with whom we can take turns caring for each other's basic needs, while encouraging them to pursue creative endeavors?
The one in charge (parent or nanny) often has to temper the creative whims of a child. (No, you can't paint your mom's car with those acrylics) But it is always with their best interest at heart. We do the same thing for our closest friends. To those who are bounding toward recklessness and ruin, all in the name of "adventure" - we must interfere.
Creativity becomes much more vulnerable at our age; its more difficult to share things we've created. Maybe we know that expression is necessary and cathartic, but life has become more complex. Unsupported and discouraged, we find a myriad of ways to talk ourselves out of it. It's no longer as simple as painting a picture of a happy penguin. Our minds are teeming with meta thoughts compounded by the pressure to express them in an entirely original way. We are hesitant to share things because we are scared of what others will think, and we care deeply how others perceive us.
As a child, you're not inhibited by the forces of self-esteem, self-consciousness, and fear of failure. The creativity of children is beautiful. Their sense of wonder isn't tainted by cynicism; when they like things, they genuinely like them. They are not concerned with being cliché or overly accessible. Our age group is subconsciously taught that cynicism is a reflection of intelligence. But how can that be true? Cynicism takes away our ability to experience pure, unadulterated joy; it is beautiful to watch a child get excited about new ideas. They pursue their interests without concern of function or rationality. The older we get, the more difficult it is to justify spending hours on a seemingly pointless creative endeavors. In order to embody childlike expression, we must surround ourselves with a community that encourages our art, even coaxing it out of us when necessary.
I've met many people who don't like being around kids. In fact, C.S. Lewis did not "enjoy the society of small children" (Abolition of Man) but he knew this was a vice. You can learn many unexpected lessons if you spend enough time with kids. Volunteer to babysit your niece and nephew. Take a summer job as a nanny. You'll be surprised how even the pukey ones can win you over with their whimsical authenticity.