The Power of Honoring the Child Within Others

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“Adults are just obsolete children.” ~ Dr. Seuss

With society’s high expectations placed upon being a “responsible” adult, we tend to suppress our curiosity, sense of play, and deep sensitivity to the extent that we forget we were all once curious, playful, and sensitive children.

Honoring the child within others is a strategy for regaining this state of curiosity, playfulness, and sensitivity so that we can remain young at heart despite the hardening hearts of others.

It’s a method for deep empathy that gets our overly-serious adult self out of the way so that we can look past the overly-serious adult self of others and rediscover connection through humility, humor, vulnerability, and love.

The hope is that, by our good example, we may encourage the open-minded and flexible child within others to trump their close-minded and rigid adulthood, so that the child within us and the child within them might honor each other with empathy rather than apathy.

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We are all just a kid from somewhere:

“I screamed at god for the starving child, until I realized that God was the child screaming at me.” ~ Unknown

Just ask yourself: How would I react to this person if they were a child? The answer will usually be: with understanding. Within reason, of course. Well, in the grand scheme of things, when it really comes down to it, adults are just children. It’s not an excuse, it’s a matter of relativity. The illusion is that we “grow up.” The reality is that we are always growing.

No matter how old we get, no matter how mature we grow, no matter how rigid and stuck in our ways we become, we will always just be a little kid from somewhere. In the grand scheme of things, we live relatively short lives. Really, we’re not that far removed from that little kid we once were. The mask is that we’ve “grown up.”

Remove the mask and the insecure yet innocent, naïve yet curious, scared yet playful inner child is there curled up around the warm center of what it means to be a mortal human in an unfathomably ancient universe. Against such a backdrop, we’re all just little babies fumbling and floundering around this thing called life.

That old guy who just cut you off in traffic and flipped you the bird? – A little boy conditioned to respond with road rage because he was primed by his parents who themselves responded with road rage. That homeless lady living behind the dumpsters on 5th and Main? –a scared little girl who experienced the loss of her parents at a young age, turned to drugs to cope, and then lost everything in the economic disaster of 2008.

That greedy, arrogant, and bigoted congressman convincing you to vote for him? –a confused little boy born with a silver spoon in his mouth and indoctrinated into believing that he deserves everything at the expense of everyone else.

Adults are just kids that forgot how not to take themselves too seriously. They tend to be overly earnest and fatally tainted by life’s struggles. Adults are hammers to whom everything looks like a nail, and so they go around vainly trying to hammer everything into place according to their worldview, no matter how valid or invalid that worldview is. Forgetting that playfulness is the cornerstone of vitality, they all-too-seriously cling to their invulnerable ways and lose the underlying vulnerable essence.

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Challenging ourselves to see the child within others helps keep both our empathy and our young-at-heart disposition sharp. We’re better able to put ourselves into another person’s shoes when we imagine them as the innocent little children that they once were (and really, deep down inside, still are).

Humility, humor, playfulness, and vulnerability

“Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh, and the greatness which does not bow before children.” ~ Khalil Gibran

Humility: Honoring the child within others is humbling because it helps us see how innocent and fragile we all are in the grand scheme of things. It helps us see how overwhelming life can be, and how daunting the ever-looming prospect of death can be.

The illusion is that adulthood secures us from being innocent and fragile, but the reality is that we are crushed by both the immensity and the intensity of life.

In fact, an adult who is in touch with their inner child is more flexibly robust and able to handle the enormity of life than an adult who is not. Sure, we age, but that doesn’t mean we have to become cold, rigid, apathetic sticks in the mud – that’s too brittle. We can, with a little change in perspective –like honoring the child within ourselves and others– remain young at heart –that’s robust.

Humor: Honoring the child within others also humbles us by giving us a salve, a magic elixir, a catch-all remedy to all that existentially and mortally ails us: a good sense of humor. An adult with a good sense of humor tends to be an adult in touch with their inner child. They are reciprocal. Adulting can often get overly serious.

We tend to take each other, and ourselves, too seriously. But with just a little sprinkle of inner-child and honoring the child within others, we go from being self-serious to being humorously authentic. Indeed. A good sense of humor will get us through just about anything, and even if it doesn’t, at least we’re laughing.

Playfulness: Honoring the child within others allows for a playful space. Playfulness is the acting out of a good sense of humor. When we are able to transform serious situations into less serious but sincere games, we’re better able to react authentically, compassionately, and empathetically.

This isn’t to undermine a terrible situation, mind you, rather it’s a strategy to get ourselves into an interdependent state where we can authentically gauge the situation. By discovering a sense of playfulness, we are more likely to arrive at a state of understanding when adults are acting out in unhealthy ways, while still maintaining the boundaries that comes with authentic maturity. Playfulness just allows for a warmth of proactive humor to buffer the situation, whether that situation is healthy or not.

Vulnerability: Honoring the child within others helps us with our vulnerability while also helping us detect the methods of invulnerability others erect at the expense of their own vulnerability. Vulnerability is courage, and vice versa. It takes courage to be open, and openness is courageous. Especially when it comes to authentic relationships.

Honoring the child within others is bowing to their vulnerability despite the walls of invulnerability that they have erected through the course of becoming an adult. Practiced often enough and consistently enough, such healthy vulnerability can change the world.

Understand: this does not mean becoming weak and letting all our defenses down, rather it means being flexible and open to the child within others while also maintaining healthy boundaries toward the adult in others.

At the end of the day, there is more maturity in a spoonful of humble, humorous, playful, child-like vulnerability than in an oceanful of indifferent, serious, rigid, “adult-like” invulnerability. Kidmaste: The child within me honors and bows to the child within you.

Image source:

Dr. Seuss quote
Adulting is hard

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  • Gary Z McGee

    Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.

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