How to stay innocent

I like to think that I keep my personality ‘young’ and ‘fresh,’ which is not too hard because society still sees me as both. This does not change that fact that I am older than I’ve ever been, and I feel that way. Aging is inevitable, how we handle aging is all we control. There is the fine line we try to walk to preserve the gaiety of youth without preserving its foibles. Efforts to recapture youth vary from frantic searches for ‘medical’ solutions; to imitations of ‘youth culture;’ to maintaining an air of wonder about the world. I believe that last trait in my in-exhaustive list is the most important. Moderate borrowings from the first two methods are fine, and I will use those methods to stay ‘fresh’ as I see fit.

As I begin ‘real adulthood,’ I ask myself: how do I maintain my sense of wonder in the face of diminishing innocence? I am certain that innocence is what allows for a sense of wonder, at least in my personal experience it is. Though not lost the way my chronological youth is, innocence is an inevitable victim of the march of time. To preserve the best of my youth, I need to answer two questions. The first is: in the absence of the innocence that empowers me to open myself up to the world, what will drive my sense of wonder? This is a life long quest, no easy answers exist here. The second is: how to preserve my innocence against the onslaught of reality that builds up in my memory banks? Specifically, what can anyone do to lose less innocence during those moments when life demands some as a sacrifice? I will explore that here.

But first I must take a bit of a side step.

I am not a fan of false dichotomies. Describing a situation in an ‘either-or’ fashion is never accurate. The exact nature (or possible future natures) of the ‘either’ or the ‘or’ can be important. Dichotomies lose the value of the nuance. The ‘black and white’ paradigm is simple, so it can be effective when the nuance lost is of little actual importance. When considering the use of such a metric to communicate possibilities, current or future, asses the value of what is being obscured. So while scientifically inaccurate, the dichotomy is more than appealing, it can be the most effective means of representing a situation.

So what kind of instance calls for a dichotomy? Some demand quick decision making. If the time saved by using this tool is more valuable than the information not shared, use a dichotomy. Trivial occurrences are also appropriate, so the information excised can not have much importance. Other situations may be the opposite: say something severe: like life or death.

A fourth time (am I locking my readers into a false quadotomy?) is when the marginal value of a degree is not small. Allow me to illustrate. A person asks you out on a date. They float the possibility of a group date or double date and you know this person likes movies, as well as live music and candle lit dinners. So there are degrees of date available to you. Anything from an intense one-on-one dinner, to a casual group get together at a movie theater all the way to not seeing this person is possible. A true range of options exists, but if the marginal change from group at a bar to group at a cinema is vastly smaller than the change from seeing this person at all to not seeing them, then you have an effective dichotomy. In a meta-sense everything can be viewed as a dichotomy (so I will not lock anyone into a false anything) if my standard of “large marginal change” is interpreted liberally enough.

I am going to say that my definition of a “large marginal change” is substantial enough that few life instances are functional dichotomies. Only monumental decisions from where there is no turning back, no back to return to, only these rare decisions count. I would also say that these decisions are often hard and painful, stripping away potential and opportunity from my future. These moments demand from us innocence. They are inevitable, ad some lives will contain more than others, but every human is faced with this kind of problem. The kind so hard that even making a decision may strip away some humanity.

I feel like I am at one such juncture right now, and I am concerned about the cost to my being that this is mandated. I know that the ‘best future me’ will learn the big lesson(s) of this experience. If I am ever confronted with a similar situation I will have some wisdom in my back pocket to draw on. But think! Could it be that in drawing on the past, and in doing so narrowing my perception of this future event, I start to become the old fart I never want to be? No innocent has a well of experience to draw from and no preconceived notions to distract from their reality at hand. This bring up a contrast between naiveté and innocence. I am not the first blogger to go here, but the arguments have not yet been enlightening. At least we know that the dichotomy between these two, and any, concepts is false (at least on this blog it is!), so a middle ground has to be attainable.

So the best best way to articulate my goal is this: I want to come away from this trial as un-naive as possible, while maintaining as much of my innocence as I can. Now I have a utility function! In theory I could find the best balance of experience and innocence for me, assuming I could assign accurate value to each. Sadly, this is impossible, and a bit off topic. What I do need to know is if it is possible to actively conserve innocence. Then I need to learn if such aims can be achieved without the progress towards one carving away at my potential success with the other.

Perhaps there is such a thing as wizened innocence? A gained quality that enables a person to know when to be innocent and when not to be. This would seem to run counter to my notion of innocence, relegating it to a tool one employs as a state of mind. In my experience innocence is greater in scope than a cultivated state of mind. It might be preservable, but cannot be grown since an infant would not seem to have any space for spare innocence. At the same time I find the idea of a wizened innocence appealing. After all many experienced individuals endure with high levels of innocence intact. Why should their experience of innocence be the same as a child’s? I think it if innocence can be preserved, it might be done so by transformation, and I will call the hypothetical result: wizened innocence.

In my wizened innocence thought experiment we will imagine innocence as a large block of granite. As time goes on this block, like all stone, is worn down by erosion. In this instance wizened innocence would be one of the possible forms that the block takes as it changes. It would be a form akin to ‘The David’ or Rodin’s ‘The Thinker.’ As the block continues to shrink, the beautiful wizened-innocence-statue would become a miniature of its former self: still the best possible manifestation of the block. If it turns out that we cannot control the process how our block deteriorates, then we can only hope that our erosion looks like the arches in Zion.

I am still not sure if innocence is preservable, or if there is a special identifiable conservation process I might learn, or if I don’t have to worry about any of this because my innocence reservoir is so large I’ll never run out. I do know that I will be mindful of this issue going forward. If I catch myself being crappy and not classy, then I’ll see what I can do revert to a younger frame of mind. I encourage you to do the same!

Seriously, young blood is good for the body, so it feels logical that a youthful outlook should be good for the soul.


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