Never Grow Up.
Stories have a way of conveying truth on a level that is so intuitive that it feels like remembering, rather than learning. Fairy tales tend to do this, but in an even more honest, and authentic way. For it is far harder to trick children, unless you first make them grow up, forgetting the things they were born knowing.
As I have read faerie tales, I have found that many authors don’t have a very high opinion of growing up.
In the Chronicles of Narnia, some of the children who once traveled through the wardrobe believe it was only in their imagination after they become adults.
The children in Peter Pan forget how to fly, and wonder if they ever did. John, one of the children from the classic story, upon growing into adulthood is described simply as:
“A bearded man who doesn’t know any story to tell his children, who was once John.”
I find this to be a terrifying description of a man. God forbid, I should never have a story that is worth telling my children.
For, as Benjamin Franklin put it:
“Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing about.”
So, my hope is to live a life that is worth reading some day, or one that is at least worthy to be shared around a campfire.
George MacDonald, a Scottish poet gives this description to a boy, who suffered from an early onset of adulthood:
“As he grew, at this time faster in body than in mind — with the usual consequence, that he was getting rather stupid — one of the chief signs of which was that he believed less and less of things he had never seen. At the same time I do not think that he was ever so stupid as to imagine that this was a sign of superior faculty and strength of mind. Still he was becoming more and more a miner, and less and less a man of the Upper World, where the wind blew. On his way to and from the mine, he took less and less notice of bees and butterflies, moths and dragon flies, the flowers, and the brooks, and the clouds. He was gradually changing into a commonplace man.”
He was gradually changing into a common place man, which is to say he ceased to believe in extraordinary things. He became so afraid of being wrong, or taken in by something fanciful that he ceased to believe in the extraordinary altogether. He lost heart. He lost courage. Courage which Madeleine L’engle, the author of A Wrinkle In Time observes, as:
“Courage which we grownups make so much of, is for a child the most natural thing in the world. There was never a child who pitied itself until a silly grown up had taught it how. They still possess many of the faculties which we ourselves have often forgotten as we have grown older.”
Children are the heroes in many of our favorite stories, not because they are capable of great acts — but rather, because they are capable of great belief. Great courage, and great faith.
There is something idyllic in a child that we all long for, is there not? That we long to emulate, to be, to become, or to return to. Or as Plato puts it, to remember.
“All learning is remembering.”
A remembering of things as we know they are meant to be. As we ourselves were meant to be.
Or again, as Madeleine L’engle puts it:
“When we are able to dip into the intuitive sub-conscious self, we remember more than we know.”
James Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, tells a story of a boy who remembered more than he knew.* One day Barrie, took the real Peter, the boy who had inspired the story, on a fishing trip with his brothers. Peter asked if his best friend Caleb could come along and when, after being told there was not enough room, Peter began to sulk, and to pity himself.
On their drive to the lake, one of the boys casually asks the others:
“If you found a genie that would grant you any wish. Right now, what would you wish?”
Peter said quietly to where any could hardly hear,
“I would wish that Caleb could join us for our afternoon of fishing…”
Later, as they are rowing across the lake, Barrie pulls a coin from his pocket and leans in to tell the children, who all lean in likewise to listen:
“Boys, do you know…that this is a magical lake?”
Each boy inhales deeply with anticipation. All except for, Peter.
“What sort of magic is it?” Michael asks
“It is the sort that when….. — at this point he pauses and rolls the dull coin between his fingers — when one tosses a coin, much like this one, into its depths, his wish will be granted him.” Barrie says
Each boy smiles gleefully and looks one to the other. But Peter, just stares glumly into the magic lake in front of him. Barrie, begins to deposit more dull coins like his own into the hands of the wide eyed children. They begin to close their eyes as they make their great wishes, tossing the coins haphazardly into the water. After some consulting from the others, Peter takes the coin from his father’s hand and casts it idly into the lake.
Minutes later, as they arrive at the dock, Peter looks up to meet the gaze of his friend Caleb, waiting by the edge.
Barrie later writes in his journal:
“For that one moment, or if but for an afternoon, a child believed again in magic, a child believed again in faerie tales.”
But, was it magic? Or simply a good father who chose to remain aware of what his child needed, wanted, and asked?
We, like James Barrie, must artfully remind those in our care of what is possible. We must carefully listen to their dreams, their needs, and their questions, to then make their dreams a reality. So that for one moment they might believe again in magic. And to them it may seem as though it is magic. Though to us, we know that it was a series of carefully arranged events, all sequenced with care, to deliver a magical result.
But…to our clients, it is nothing short of magic.
We must fight to never lose our sense of wonder and awe. Like a child crying, “Again, again.” when they have seen a magic trick for the first time.
We must never forget that, though we may now see it to only be a trick of the hand…we too once believed in magic. We must always remember. Always perform, and always set the stage of these moments for others.
For our clients.
For one another.
“If you design it, I’ll develop it.”
I heard a myth that one of our co-founders once said this to the other — I don’t know how true it is — but what does it say about our camaraderie and our desire to be challenged and to push the envelope, if we already have legends walking around the office dusting us with their organizational culture as they pass through.
I see this attitude emulated in the office all the time.
For instance this, is a screenshot of what our Director of Tech placed in the “#designers” Slack channel the other day, with the caption:
“This is the factory where your designs come to life.”
To the developers it may be a screen filled to exploding with various colored fonts and programming languages, but to our clients, it is nothing short of magic.
To the story & content team, it may be a brand strategy or name presentation, but to our clients it is nothing short of magic.
To the designers, it may be a site design or a logo presentation, but to our clients it is nothing short of magic, and hopefully will bring them to tears as some have…good tears.
Still, even with this attitude floating around the office, we may all one day lose our way and forget how to fly like the children in Peter Pan. But this is why we must challenge ourselves to believe in extraordinary things, and not become commonplace. We must always be learning, that is to say, remembering more than we know, so that we might never forget.
But, if we do forget — Peter Pan has taught me a few things…
All it takes to remember is a happy thought, a little pixie dust and a little help from our friends.
(This was a talk given at one of our Whiteboard, Townhall Meetings.)
*Adapted from the foreword by Amy Billone, in Peter Pan.