Over the past few years it’s been easy enough for me to notice how eager and energetic infants and toddlers are to know just about everything. What they don’t seek out themselves by clumsy curiosity, they are given and eventually take up in their own way, with guidance.
At the same time, it’s been all too easy to contrast this with how non-curious adults are for new knowledge, or challenges of any kind to their beliefs. Sometimes it seems that if many of us hadn’t learned to lift our heads yet, we wouldn’t bother trying.
But that is too easy a judgment by far. I’ve never understood the passages in poets ancient and modern where the supposed simplicity animals is romanticized; and similarly I’ve never understood the words of Jesus, contrasting human vanity and aspirations with flowers that “do not labor or spin.” Certainly the verse preceding this makes more sense (“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”), but the person who doesn’t labor or spin in some way or other isn’t a person at all. Life seems to be about little else than finding meaning in all the laboring and spinning we inevitably must do.
So that, while personally I’m closer than ever to a desire to worship and respect nature, it seems that it’s precisely because we have a different consciousness than animals or plants that we are human at all. And, those of us who are old enough to read words like these are no longer infants or children.
Because what would any of us do if put in the position of a newborn again, whose only responsibility is to eat, sleep, and mess the diaper? It’s no wonder they’re curious, since they’ve nothing else to do: the most practical thing they can do is look around in wonder. They don’t even have the awareness that it might be nice for their parents if they sleep through the night, or if during the day they delayed the announcement of their hunger so that one of the adults in their lives can finish a blog post.
But almost immediately responsibilities crowd around us: how we should act and treat others, or as adults how we’ll pay the bills and care for those we love, or how we will or won’t eventually find a better job to do all of these things with a calmer mind. These are real and quite literally crushing things, and so I don’t blame most of the people who get off work and don’t much have the energy to remain curious, or to challenge themselves, to go to a play, to eat something new, to drive somewhere they’ve never been.
Yet we have to try. As America’s last election cycle shows, not trying means that millions on all sides would rather find the certainty of enemies to blame and personalities to latch onto, rather than challenge themselves with a murkier and more inexact reality. If the only answers to our problems (to over-simplify the already simplistic) are either nationalism or constant harping over national guilt, there’s hardly a reason to continue talking.
Surely there is a middle way between the demands of life, the safety we find in old certainties, and our ability to try (as we must) to challenge those certainties even a few minutes every day, no matter where they might lead?