"In one minute, I'm going to play you a theme song. It may be from a movie, a TV show, a video game - anything. The first person to identify the song will get the $20 bill in my hand. Alright...play!"
From the cheap speaker in the corner came a muffled, crackling version of The Godfather theme. Dozens of hands sprung into the air around me, including my own, but what caught my attention was the tiny hand of a young girl in the front row. Her little arm was waving back and forth furiously; her enthusiasm nearly bringing her out of the seat beneath her. Clearly she knew the correct answer, which I honestly found rather impressive. She couldn't have been older than 6...recognizing anything from The Godfather seemed pretty sophisticated to me. (I made a mental note to introduce myself to her parents later.) The comedian must have been intrigued as well, because he immediately beckoned her to the stage with his hand. She jumped up, skipped over to him, pulled the microphone to her lips and said,
"It's the theme from Friends!"
All of our heads snapped back. Friends? An answer couldn't be more wrong. She had seemed so sure of herself...how could she have been so off? There was a small chuckle from the audience as the comedian joked, "Oooo, almost! The answer was actually 'Friends and Family!'" A louder response from the crowd. The little girl's eyes and mouth opened wide. She smacked her hand against her forehead and exclaimed, "Awe man! I was so close!"
The crowd roared with laughter. I heard scattered voices saying, "oh, how cute!" and "that's so precious," which naturally, I agreed with. However, there was a feeling on my own part that I didn't hear voiced in the audience, and that feeling was admiration. This girl was fearless. She raised - no, not raised - threw her hand into the air, and she didn't even know the right answer. She didn't fear judgment or ridicule; she was willing to try, just to have a chance of winning.
This story is one of a million that each and every one of us could share about children. As we all know, "kids say the darndest things." More often than not, we attribute this audaciousness to naiveté and think to ourselves, "they'll learn as they get older." However, I'd argue that they shouldn't. Why teach someone fear? In fact, I believe that there is much to be gleaned from their inhibition. Kids do not fear failure. They are not concerned with "the right answer," or "being incorrect" - they are completely open to making mistakes and participating. In a modern society where being "correct" seems to be equated with success and self-worth, it is understandable why hesitation and caution would be developed over the years. However, I submit that a child's vulnerability is an essential part of the creative spirit and should be encouraged. The inhibitions of adulthood only squander the potential of the human imagination. Without it, limitations are lifted and so much more is achievable. Suddenly, where there was only "right" and "wrong", there are endless possibilities and to me, that is an exciting notion.
Does this mean that there are no wrong answers? Well - no, it doesn't. (As any math and science student will begrudgingly tell you.) However, the importance of fearlessness and participation cannot be stressed enough. As silly as we think children are sometimes, in many ways they are our greatest teachers. Don't discourage their innocence - contrary to what most standardized tests suggest being wrong is really not so terrible. What would be terrible is a world so structured by black and white that the shades of gray disappear. Without shading, there is no depth, and science proved a long time ago that the world is not flat.