I caught myself about to do the unthinkable the other day.
I was taking the two kids I watch and their cousin to a baseball game. The two boys were speculating on the curious week-long absence of a fellow student in their class at school. Was he sick? Did his mom finally have her baby? What if he forgot to come back to school after spring break?
My automatic instinct was to assure them that would never happen. But I stopped myself. How many times had I heard that question “What if…” and immediately jumped in with why that wouldn’t happen. More often than not, it was my attempt to keep my kids from worrying. “What if the dog bit the mailman? What if someone tried to break into the house?”
Other times, it’s because I don’t want them to get any ideas. “What if there was a homeless dog on the side of the road [knowing I have a major soft spot for just about any kind of animal] and we needed to take it home with us? What if there was an emergency and you had to go somewhere and we had to stay home by ourselves?”
And there are some times–and I hate to admit this–when I my automatic “that wouldn’t happen” response comes simply from being too busy and not having the time to humor their curiosity.
This is not okay. Telling a kid it will never happen is telling them that asking “what if” is pointless. It’s telling them there’s no use in imagining the unlikely, in dreaming the impossible. Would you ever tell a child to give up their dream to become President because the chances of it actually happening are less than 1%?
I sincerely hope not.
And what’s more, isn’t dreaming the unlikely where some of our best books come from? Look at a few of the world’s best known stories. They each come from one writer’s courage to ask, “What if…?”
What if the country rose up against it’s government and lost, resulting in a split of 13 different districts of varying wealth and poverty and an annual “game” in which each district sacrifices two of their own in a battle to the death?
What if there were an alternate world with dragons and wargs and white walkers where several families fight for a crown, a kingdom, and a throne made of iron swords?
What if a white lawyer looked past the racial prejudices of a small Alabama town in 1936 and agreed to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman?
Where would we be without these and many more stories and the authors who allowed their imaginations to ponder their “What if?” questions. Would these authors have even taken the time to let their creative juices flow if their parents and teachers and babysitters told them “that would never happen” all their lives?
How about you? Have you ever told your kid–friend, classmate–that it couldn’t happen? Have you stifled someone’s imagination? If you have, you get no judgement from me. We’re all in the same boat.
Let’s make a promise here and now to nurture the creativity and imagination in those around us instead of dowsing it with that one sentence. Talk to them, imagine the what ifs with them. You never know, these could be our future authors, artists, directors, songwriters. You could be one small contributing factor in the next Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, or To Kill a Mockingbird.
Or at the very least, you could make a little kid’s day.