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Worldwide Ace » Purity and Praise

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Purity and Praise

13 August, 2013 (14:59) | Social Commentary

Children are capable of the greatest of goods and the greatest of evils. Their acts of kindness and warmth, when genuine and unforced, are often devoid of awareness. Their acts of malice and manipulation are often as cold, selfish, and cruel as any act on earth.

Working with kids almost requires me to think this way. My friends who don’t like children (and yes, I have many) seem to believe that children are tiny drunk adults; selfish, cruel, wanton parasites unable to appreciate the things they receive nor presciently understand their actions or ramifications. If I thought that way, I most certainly would loathe kids too.

But ignorance is a beautiful thing. It allows us to learn and grow. It allows us to judge acts without judging the people committing them. And, most importantly, it allows us who know to forgive those that may not.

When a small child chooses to share with the woman crying on the bench because the toy horse in their hand always makes them feel better, it’s perhaps the most beautiful act a person can commit. It’s a sacrifice of immeasurable value. The child knows neither the value of the horse, nor can they understand the effect that giving up the horse will have on them. They don’t worry about the loss of the horse, nor about the odds that the person they’re handing it to won’t use it as intended. They simply are incapable of comprehending the full value of their act, something about which even the greatest philosophers could spend weeks arguing.

It is, in its essence, as close to a pure act of kindness as is humanly possible.

When older, I rationalize my act. I think about the outcome, the possibilities. I consider consequences both good and bad. I weigh options and examine the needs of my audience. And while none of these things will necessarily delay my action or change it, every thought, every consideration, every moment of awareness changes my intent. It makes my acts calculated, even when they’re emotionally in the moment. The act, in my mind, is connected to dozens of others, hundreds of moments, thousands of thoughts.

Buddhism likes to talk about living in the moment. Our temporality prevents this, though it’s a worthy goal, and Buddhism, while lauding the idea, never claims that it is possible.

But a child is often in the moment. A child is often devoid of the rigors that memory, understanding, and knowledge saddle upon us. And it’s that which allows for purity of action.

Oddly, this purity, while beautiful, is not laudable. An older child should be praised for making the right choice and punished for the wrong one. She should be acclaimed for understanding her action and the consequences. She should be reminded when she fails to do so.

A younger child, the innocent one who is still capable of a pure act, can only be shown why such an act is the right or wrong one. When asked why they did it, they often reveal they don’t know. Even those capable of verbalizing their act, their emotions, and (conceivably) their reason often reveal they don’t understand or don’t remember. They may not have even realized it.

I can’t praise a child who acts without understanding. I can only bask in the moment and remind myself that such a wonderful act can be still reached through all the trappings of adulthood, however impure I may be.