Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Innocence Lost

There are so many ways we lose innocence as we move from child to adult.

Innocence.  We, that is those of us who are not, know what it means.  It means having no knowledge of evil.  Even those who do not believe in evil recognize innocence.

I had several reminders last week of innocence and the fact that we lose it.  I didn't like the reminders.

The first incident had to do with a grandson's homework assignment.  His class read this little story about a group of children and a new kid's arrival.  The new kid was viewed differently and negatively at first but as he became better known then that changed.  We've all observed situations where someone new arrives and the group only seems to see the differences and the negatives and then later the similarities are noticed and eventually there is acceptance.

There were questions asked of the students abut the story.  One question was to describe someone  you had changed your mind about when you knew them better.  My grandson just answered that he hadn't done that yet.  My son said he tried to explain the question better but his son seemed to understand it but stuck to his answer that he had not done that yet.

I chuckled over it at first.  But the idea of it stuck with me.  I guess it is still with me or I would not be blogging about it.  Gradually I began to think about it in terms of innocence lost.

He's such a wonderfully sweet and smart nine year old, this grandson of mine.  I wondered had he never really changed his mind about someone yet?  Did he not understand the story or the question?  But he's really smart so I ruled out the understanding option.  He understood.  He's also sweet and he's the kind of kid that would take up for someone if everyone else was making fun of them.  So maybe it just has not happened yet to him.

That's when I thought about how innocent it was to simply meet someone new and just accept them as is.  That's the way it should be but rarely is.  Usually someone else introduces us and either beforehand or coincidentally "poisons the well" with some information about the new person.  Or we let our own various biases about looks or gender or clothing or height or weight or color or whatever poison our own impression.  We begin to develop those biases really early.

Later my son told me about an incident involving my granddaughter at school.  She'll turn eleven this year.  Some boys made fun of her because she did not know what a particular, common hand gesture meant.  You all know the hand gesture I mean.  We all have probably seen it used many times.  A few of us, and I include myself, may have even used it ourselves on occasion.

Do you know that I remember when this happened in my own young life now so long ago?

I was rather innocent as a child for a long while myself.  For one thing we were quite a ways outside both the town and the city then.  And we rarely went anywhere and when we did it was for short, dedicated trips.  There was no TV until I was past 5 years of age and the early TV shows were pretty tame at least by comparison.  We did have radio and books and newspapers.  But somehow I was just not very worldly about a lot of stuff.

At any rate I remember when I saw the hand gesture used for the first time.  I don't remember the exact details of when and where but just the fact of the event.  Then someone told me what it meant but I had never heard the "f word" and had no idea what that meant.  I remember being so ashamed that I was so ignorant.

Really I was not ignorant though.  I knew quite a bit about sex because we had animals.  I had witnessed birth events as well as what causes them.  That was just natural to me and I had never heard the "f word" associated with the act of procreation.

Even if I had been ignorant though there would have been no cause for shame.  Shame is an entirely different subject in itself isn't it?

That memory made me remember many similar events.  One was the first time I heard the "n" word.  Another was the first time I heard the "q" word.   Or the first cuss words I heard.  Or the first time I saw a nude girl in a magazine.  Or the first time I took a drink of whiskey.

Actually the first time I saw a nude girl I remember quite clearly.  I was very young - maybe 5 or so.  My mom and I were returning home on Robinson Street in south Oklahoma City and out the window I saw this small girl running along the sidewalk and she was naked.  And I saw enough to recognize there was a rather significant difference between her and me.

I think I had never thought about it before then.  So that was another loss of innocence I suppose for me.

The teacher made the boys apologize to my granddaughter.  My son and I talked it over.  It isn't such a big deal I suppose and it happens every day to millions of other children.  And dare I say that most are younger than my granddaughter.  I am grateful she hasn't known the meaning until now.

I wish I did not know so much of evil myself.  There are images I wish I had never seen and sounds I had never heard and thoughts I had never thought and words I had never said and more words I had never read and actions I had never performed.

We do not do a very good job of protecting our children's innocence now.  I mean we as in the entire culture.  Obviously some of us do a better job than others.

It seems that being innocent is not considered a good thing at all in our society.  I've heard people say that children should be exposed to the coarser parts of the culture as soon as possible because that's the way the real world is.

The same week I heard one of the presidential candidates say he supported sex education in kindergarten.  At first I thought I had misunderstood but I hadn't.  I suppose it depends maybe on your own experiences and what you value and what you don't.

Another thing about innocence is that no matter how much we've lost we can always lose more.  I have lost count of the times I have heard hardened police investigators say that some crime or another is the worst they've seen in their long career.  Or I've heard similar stories from friends who served in combat that the past horrors they experienced were eclipsed by the next.

Occasionally I receive reports from friends who tell me about violence between religious factions and how great the atrocities are that are committed against people of different views.

It occurs to me as I write this that so much of losing innocence is about the recognition of difference.  I had not thought about that before.

I also remember when I first learned that I was easily capable of doing things against my own conscience, too.  That's another loss of innocence.

But maybe that story should be saved for another day.


Lori1955 said...

Excellent post Terry. As I was reading this, I tried to think back to a time that I was innocent. I guess it has just been too many years and too many experiences because I really can't remember ever being innocent. It's kind of sad that, that time in our lives is so short lived.

nancy said...

i so identified with your post terry. i guess i was also innocent for quite a while. i distinctly remembering driving home from school with my mom when i was in 7th grade, yes 7th grade and i saw the "f" word written on someone's window. i remember asking my mom, "mom, what does "f - you" mean? it really had an affect on me, that's for sure.

my mom was too embarrassed to explain it to me so i remember going to school the next day and asking a girl friend to explain it to me. boy did i feel foolish!!