Doug Taylor and Rabbi Morton Moskowitz
"Ah, the innocence of youth," I said wistfully as the elementary school children, bundled to the hilt in winter coats and mufflers, scattered across the playground only seconds after the recess bell granted them temporary escape from classrooms and books. I watched as groups immediately formed; some playing ball, others on the jungle gym, while others just wandered around, talking with friends.
My friend, the King of Rational Thought, interrupted my reverie as we strolled past the school. Having decided that a 30-minute walk would be good for both of us, we were trying by intent to get a fraction of the exercise these children would get by accident.
"The innocence of youth," I said, coming back to the present. "You know. Kids are such innocent creatures. Look at them all, running around, having fun, not a care in the world." I found myself longing for those days.
"Innocent?" he asked. "Innocent of what?"
"Well, they haven't grown up enough to have been messed up by society. They're fresh. Unspoiled. You know. Like a baby right out of the womb."
He smiled. "You sound as if you think a baby is in a better state than an adult."
"A baby is. Well, sort of. I mean, uh, they haven't been-" I was stammering, and he just kept smiling. "Oh, you know!" I finally blurted out, unable to avoid smiling with him.
"Actually," he said, "I don't know. I agree that a baby right out of the womb may be fresh, but it's also helpless and ignorant. It has to learn virtually everything. How to walk, how to talk, how to eat,-"
"Don't forget potty training," I cut in. "I have some experience in such matters."
"That too," he replied. "And most important, a child has to be taught how to think. No baby fresh from the womb knows how to make proper analyses and conclusions or how to foresee consequences. A child has to be taught how to use its intellect."
He looked at me. "Our society, on the other hand, has it backwards. We look at children and think that they're clean and pure and pristine and that they somehow get worse or spoiled once they grow up. The truth is just the opposite. A baby is utterly helpless. Left to its own devices, it will operate strictly on its emotions and instincts, make dangerous - if not fatal - mistakes, and likely not survive. It needs adults, hopefully mature thinking adults, to carefully guide its development for many years. Longer than virtually any other mammal on the planet. 'The innocence of youth?' A more appropriate statement would be, 'the ignorance of youth'."
We rounded a corner as a chilly blast of air pushed us from behind.
"Ok," I said. "I see your point. But kids have it so good. They're so carefree."
"Hmmm," he said thoughtfully. "Let's talk about that. Do you think children see themselves and their lives as carefree?"
"Well, no," I replied, "probably not. But compared to the responsibilities we face as adults, they've got it pretty good."
"Maybe so," he said, "but that's from your point of view. No offense, but you're fantasizing. You long to be a child with all the knowledge and skills you now possess as an adult, but without the pressures and responsibilities. Compared to you, you think that children live a carefree life. So you're assuming they think that way too. Yes?"
I wasn't thrilled about admitting he was right. Trouble was, he was.
"We don't like to acknowledge it," he concluded, "but ignorance is not bliss. Children are not better off than adults. It's the other way around. Ideally at least, adults should have the skills to deal with the problems of life and the training to make wise and well-thought-out decisions."
At that moment an '89 Camaro, loaded with high school kids, squealed around the corner, doing probably double the speed limit and leaving a long patch of black rubber fused to the asphalt.
The King of Rational Thought smiled again.
"And then," he said, "there are teen-agers..."