What’s wisdom to you?
Is it knowledge without conceit? Self – awareness without self – criticism? Contentment without having everything?
Who’s the epitome of wisdom in your book?
Is it the Greek philosopher Socrates, perhaps, or Mahatma Gandhi? Or do you prefer Steve Jobs or Leonardo Da Vinci?
What’s inspiration to you?
Is it something that makes a cartoon light bulb go on above your head when the germ of an idea first hits you? Or is it maybe something that plays the same songs as your heartstrings do?
Who’s the epitome of inspiration in your book?
Is it a great social hero or heroine, like Abraham Lincoln, or Mother Teresa? Or perhaps a crusader of science, like Charles Darwin or Marie Curie?
Perhaps that’s what wisdom and inspiration are to you.
But not to me.
Perhaps the people I listed are your role models.
But they’re not mine.
Don’t get me wrong. All the names I just mentioned are equally worthy of our respect, and I hold each one in high regard. But today, I want to tell you about one of the lesser known kingpins of wisdom. I want to tell you about my greatest inspiration. I want to tell you about the man who made me want to write.
You might say, “He’s a children’s writer. What wisdom is there in books meant for ten – year – olds?”
Allow me to show you.
For instance, let’s consider an issue that’s being fervently discussed in our generation. Body image and beauty.
We work so hard to convince our fellow peers that beauty is on the inside, and that the package that it comes wrapped in is no reason to ridicule or shame someone. I’ve seen thousands of Instagram posts and Tumblr pictures advocating a healthy body image, full of depth and implicit meanings and intellect. But even though they’re out there, I still find that they haven’t managed to change the majority of mindsets. Wouldn’t it be easier if we just raised our children on this:
A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.
– The Twits
The true nature of beauty explained in the simplest of terms in a book only seven – year – olds read. Who would’ve thought?
Or perhaps you prefer something a little more profound, like the nature of people? How they lie and cheat and have sides of them you have never seen and probably never want to see again should you have the unfortunate opportunity to do so. Something we need to realize early on as people, is that we cannot possibly hope to understand everything from where we stand. And the most helpless shoes you can stand in are a child’s. I remember what it was like, trying to make sense of the world of the big folk, aka the adults, and getting horrified at the things they would do to each other. I would wonder whether they truly meant everything they did and said, or they were just pretending. The thought that I might someday become like that would honestly scare me. That’s when I read this:
“Grown ups are complicated creatures, full of quirks and secrets.”
“I was glad my father was an eye-smiler. It meant he never gave me a fake smile because it’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren’t feeling twinkly yourself. A mouth-smile is different. You can fake a mouth-smile any time you want, simply by moving your lips. I’ve also learned that a real mouth-smile always has an eye-smile to go with it. So watch out, I say, when someone smiles at you but his eyes stay the same. It’s sure to be a phony.”
“A stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY”
– Danny the Champion of the World
This book told me the truth, made me see, and showed me the way all at once. Who would’ve thought?
Some of his children’s books are practically a life manual if you read them carefully enough. Save the clever Shakespearean passages and the reflective Latin text. Give someone a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and they will learn secrets of happiness that kids don’t know to look for, and grow ups don’t think exist:
“Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted.”
“He lived happily ever after.”
“You should never, never doubt something that no one is sure of.”
“However small the chance might be of striking lucky, the chance was there.”
“Don’t argue, my dear child, please don’t argue! It’s such a waste of precious time!”
“We are all a great deal luckier that we realize, we usually get what we want – or near enough.”
And I haven’t even tapped the juicy vein that is Matilda or The BFG.
Well, maybe I’ll write a part two to this at some other time. Let me know if I should. But I want to leave you with this. Children are probably wiser than any adult realizes, because they haven’t seen enough of life to see the worst in people. It takes conscious effort to see the good in people when you grow older, but children do it with no trouble at all.
We could stand to tear a page out of their book. We could stand to revisit childhood classics and marvel at the philosophy tangled within the words.
We could stand to read a little Roald Dahl every now and then. Not to learn to live, or imagine, or understand children, but to find magic.
Magic we don’t have because experience became our principle source of wisdom, over the books we grew up on.
Magic we lost.
Believe in that magic. Trust me, you’ll find it.
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
– Roald Dahl