When I was in high school and college, I parlayed my years as a gymnast into some time as a coach. I spent some of my time coaching boys and girls my age and slightly younger, but my favorite classes to work with were the younger kids- my preschool classes were particularly fun. In addition to watching them develop coordination and control over their bodies (fun and odd talent: I can tell you a child’s age pretty accurately based on how they jump), I genuinely enjoyed the conversations that I had with the kids.
For however weird it may sound to say that truly great conversation can come from anyone that young, there was one element I especially appreciated: their openness.
Yes, these kids are likely speaking from a script. (Update: per the Chicago Tribune, much in the final versions is improvised. Thanks Joe!) But the reason that the commercials are so funny, and that they resonate with so many people, is because they are based in the same truth, spontaneity, and humor that actually comes from kids at this age. Just watch. They don’t hold back, they don’t self-edit. They speak from their minds to their mouths, with very little slowing those thoughts down.
But we lose this. We lose this ability to be frank, open, and in some cases even silly. I miss that, and wish we could carry more of it into adulthood. From expectations and prejudices to self-doubt and social conventions, adults let so many things slow the path of words from their minds to their mouths. Not to be misunderstood here- I value the ability my adult mind has to recognize where tone, appropriateness, and political correctness fall when structuring conversation. That said, adults get terrifically wrapped up in how things should sound, what words should come out, and what people will think of their words. It sends us into a tizzy every time we’re called upon to express a thought without preparation, and can even hinder our creative spirit. After all, how can a truly creative idea come forth when it’s forced inside a box of convention?
I see it in myself when put on the spot at meetings, paralyzed to give a response for the worry of what my spontaneous answer will sound like. I sometimes compose the thought later and send it to a colleague or student with some forethought, but who’s to say the same thought couldn’t be expressed in that moment, sans editing or polishing?
What’s more, as I’ve continued to blog and started writing the beginnings of what will eventually become a book, I’ve noticed myself holding back or trying to fit my ideas into the box of what I believe my ideas should sound like in that venue.
I’m envious of the four year old who isn’t burdened by thinking about what words he’s going to use. I long for the days when I would express my thoughts with out abandon or concern about judgment. And as I continue putting pen to paper (or, more often, fingers to keys) for the book, I’m hoping for a little less self-editing, and a little more talk in the vein of “Candy Island”. Here’s hoping that as I get older, I can find more value in the lessons of my former gymnastics students.