Become like a child


A nursery school teacher was walking around the classroom observing students while they were drawing. Stopping at the desk of one little girl who was working hard on her picture, the teacher asked what she was drawing. The girl replied, “I’m drawing God.” The teacher paused and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.” Without missing a beat, or looking up from her sketch, the girl replied, “They will in a minute.”

In the supermarket this past weekend, I observed an interaction between a mother and her pre-school child. As the mother tried to shop, her daughter bounced around the store full of energy. She chattered endlessly, asking countless questions, skipping up and down the aisles, pointing to items on the shelves and urging her mother to “Come and see!” Finally the stressed woman admonished the toddler to be still so she could think and finish the shopping. The girl kept quiet for about a minute, then she was off again!


Babies come out of the womb curious. They’re always exploring, touching, tasting. Their curiosity often leads them do things that cause their parents’ untold alarm, like inserting fingers into electricity sockets, or picking up knives and other sharp objects. Babies are also persistent. When told, “No! Don’t touch!” they touch it again and again. And when learning how to walk, write, or tie their shoes, they never give up until they master the skill.

Babies are full of hope and wonder. Each new experience seems to hold endless possibilities. Strangers become friends in a matter of moments. Ordinary items like sand, water and empty plastic bottles keep them fascinated for hours, while everyday occurrences like falling leaves or a line of marching ants become something entertaining and remarkable.

Children are always questioning, always asking “Why”, and are never fully satisfied with any given answer. They’re always watching, learning more than their parents about the family home theatre system or the latest hi-tech device, and discovering how to drive while silently observing their parents from the passenger seat.


Children have powerful imaginations and tremendous self-esteem. They make up improbable stories and laugh at nonsensical jokes.

They produce shapeless sculptures and scribbled drawings and proudly show them off as if they were fabulous works of art. They design machines that could never work in the real world and invent games that are pure fantasy. But for children, fantasy often seems more real than reality.

Somewhere along the line something happens to many babies. We’re told our ideas are stupid, so we stop sharing them. We’re told our drawing doesn’t look real, so we produce something that looks more like reality instead. We’re told to “Sit still!” Or “Be sensible!” Or “Why can’t you be more like your brother?”

So we become cautious, afraid of taking risks, worried about making mistakes. We become concerned about what other people may say or think.

The worst thing that could happen is for us to look weird or stand out. So we do our best to fit in. We stop dreaming. We become grown-ups.

Luckily for the human race, there are those whose imaginations refuse to shut up, even in the face of strong disapproval. People like the Wright brothers, the two American bicycle repairmen who invented the first airplane but were called “crazies” by local newspapers and dubbed the “Lying Brothers” by the Scientific American Magazine.

Or Karl Benz, the German engineer who designed the first practical automobile powered by an internal-combustion engine, but was mocked by the Mannheimer Zeitung newspaper as “useless, ridiculous and indecent” because he was riding a horseless carriage. The newspaper published the question “Who is interested in such a contrivance so long as there are still horses for sale?”

Or American physicist Dr Robert Goddard now considered the father of modern rocketry and space flight, who was ridiculed by the prestigious New York Times for daring to think that a rocket could fly to the moon. The newspaper maligned the idea with a sarcastic editorial remark that Goddard “seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools”, implying that the inventor didn’t even possess the most basic understanding of physics.

US aviator Charles Lindbergh, a staunch supporter and funder of Goddard’s work, said, “We live in a world where dreams and reality interchange.” And Goddard himself stated during his high school graduation speech “It has often proved true that the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.”

Malawi desperately needs dreamers. People who look at familiar problems and see unconventional solutions. People who aren’t afraid of seeming foolish or failing along the way. People who don’t mind being different or thinking differently from everyone else around them. People who don’t complain about what is, but dream about what could be.

If you’re a parent, encourage your child’s curiosity instead of socialising them to conformity. If you’re a teacher, make your classroom a hub of creativity instead of an incubator for unoriginality. Ignite your own creativity by developing what renowned psychologist Albert Bandura describes as self-efficacy: “the belief in one’s capabilities to organise and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations.” Self-efficacy is your belief in your ability to succeed in a particular situation.

Believe in yourself. Believe in a world full of possibilities. Become like a child again.

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