Sunday, April 18, 2010

Week 16: What We Can Learn from Kids

Distribution Source:
Content Source: Adora Svitak
Format: Video
Length: 8 minutes 13 seconds
Link: Adora Svitak

A very short post this week as I've been in the office all day and things aren't looking any rosier... Last night I saw the movie "Where the Wild Things Are", a book I loved as a kid. The movie on the whole was OK - but it had a few really touching, thought-provoking moments. For me, the most interesting scene was the one in which young, creative-but-crazy Max tells his mom the following off-the-cuff story:

There were some buildings. They were these really tall buildings, and they could walk. There were these vampires and one of the vampires bit the tallest building and his fangs broke off. Then all his other teeth fell out. Then he started crying. And then all the other vampires said, "Why are you crying? Aren't they just you're baby teeth?" And, uh, he said, "no, those were my grown up teeth." And the other vampires knew that he couldn't be a vampire anymore so they left him. The end.

When I heard this story from Max I was struck by the way Max is able to mix fantasy with reality... a clearly unrealistic scale (a vampire biting a building) is mixed with emotion (crying because other vampires left him), empathy (child-teeth falling out and becoming adult teeth) and pragmatism (a vampire can't really be a vampire without his teeth!). It made me wonder what my response would be if someone asked me to tell a story on the spot. As much as most adults would laugh off Max's story, I bet if asked many of them would stutter their way through something not half as entertaining as his vampire tale.

So after Max's story, I was drawn to a video titled "What adults can learn from kids" - it is a nine minute video of an incredible young girl named Adora Svitak. She is 12 years old, and says things like this: "The traits the word childish addresses are seen so often in adults that we should abolish this age-discriminatory word when it comes to criticizing behavior associated with irresponsibility and irrational thinking." Pretty funny stuff. She has already published books, essays, and stories, and also gave a keynote address. You should really watch for yourself - the mere typed words of an adult cannot do her enthusiasm, intelligence, and creativity justice.

Her basic point, one I agree with, is that kids aren't as hampered as much by reasons "why not." Kids still dream about perfection. They are in their own way more big-picture than adults, who in my experience too often get stuck in the weeds. While watching Adora speak, I couldn't help but wonder how many great ideas would have been sparked if adults took her rabidly curious approach to the world. It isn't that hard, but how often do you hear grown men and women ask "why?" Not enough, in my opinion.

Kids also have this amazing ability to soak up seemingly complex skills... I'm very fortunate to have been exposed to both music and language at an early age. Not that I'm anything special at either, but I've noticed the approach I take with both is more flexible than those trying to learn for the first time as adults. I internalized the notion that music is something you can break down, play with, and build back up. And that languages are much deeper than subject-verb agreements. The subtle nuances can only come from really communicating, not merely translating. This flexibility is something I'm convinced I picked up - and hopefully to some degree retained - as a child.

Of course, there are downsides. As a five year old my parents read to me about and showed pictures of the wonderful murals of Diego Rivera. I was so inspired that I took my crayons (and artistic initiative) and made my very own mural on our white wall... and yes, we were trying to sell the place at the time. But you know what? As a parent, while I'd probably be forced to put my child in time-out for drawing on the walls, the kid somewhere inside me would be happy.


  1. It would be great to see these two 12 year olds together in the same venue.

    Best TJK

  2. Thanks for the link - I actually saw that kid speak for the first time two weeks ago on C-SPAN... pretty impressive. And yes, the two should absolutely team up!

  3. Steve is still childish and I think its a good thing.

  4. another great post. nice work.