The famous adage, "You learn something new every day", is especially true if you have kids, or spend any length of time with them. Kids have a way of saying things, seeing things, questioning things, that we as adults seem to lose. It's a kind of honesty and direct approach that where an adult would think twice about the ramifications of what they are about to say, children just want to know. Their inquisitive nature is their no-holds-barred method to a greater understanding of the world around them.
This week, one of my kids found out that in a previous life I used to be a soldier. It's not a fact I hide, neither is it something I'm ashamed of. It's just never come up in conversation. She found a photo of me in greens, carrying a semi-automatic, and looking every part the soldier. She looked, digested, dissected, and then came out with the question that I could clearly see was troubling her 6-year-old mind.
"Did you kill anyone?"
I didn't see that one coming. I thought about it for a minute, and told her about people not joining the army to kill people. Soldiers are in the army to care for other people. To secure their land. To safeguard their way of life. Forget the politics. Six-year-olds don't care about it. If she did, she'd have asked about the legal ramifications for the Iraq War, the troops being in Afghanistan, and what the new coalition government plans to do about it all. Clearly not very likely.
All my kids know what I do now. Obviously. They're proud to say that their dad's a paramedic, and if you were to ask any of them what my job description is, they'd each tell you, in their own inimitable style, that I save people's lives, or I go and help the sick and injured, or something along the same sorts of lines. Sometimes, if I come home looking particularly harassed, said 6-year-old will ask if I saved anybody at work, or how many people did I look after, but she has never yet asked me if anybody died. Her question about the army taught me a little about how the little people around us perceive the confusing world around them. To my six-year-old, the following is her view of the world:
Soldiers kill, Paramedics save.
As adults, on the other hand, we look at the world through completely different eyes. Our vision is blurred by stereotype, cynicism, media portrayal, politics, and a small dose of reality. After the "army question", I was left thinking about perception in general, and of the ambulance service in particular. I sent out a tweet to my followers asking a very simple question: "What is the first question/reaction you get as a paramedic/EMT when being introduced to someone new?" A simple question, but the answer to which is probably reduced to a bare half-dozen similar answers.
"Wow, that's interesting", or "How cool", or "You must see some horrible things".
Of course there are the silly ones, like "Do you drive on lights and sirens just to get back for a cup of coffee?" I'd love to say yes to that one, but no. Unfortunately not.
I find that there's one more. Often not the first question or reaction, but is asked on a very frequent basis.
"What's the worst thing you've ever seen?"
I refuse to answer that one honestly. The adult in me forbids it. Anyone asking that question doesn't really want to hear what the worst things are to see, and I know they don't. I know because once upon a time when I was much newer, I'd answer with the truth. Except that after the first three words they'd cover their ears and yell for me to stop. "Stop! No more! I can't understand how you do it!" Now my answer tends to be about the latest delivery I assisted with, and the mess all over the place. It's enough for most.
There's an element in all of us that wants to hear the gory story, to hear about the trauma. It's what makes any person driving past the scene of an accident drive slower in order to take a look, but drive much quicker if there's any risk of actually finding out. The childlike curiosity that is in all of us often makes way for the cynicism of an adult's view of the universe. We really want to know, but not at any cost.
Children have a thirst for knowledge that we as adults have quenched by reality.
Children are on a quest, a treasure-hunt searching for understanding, whilst we as adults we want to rest at the starting line, ignoring all the clues and helpful hints.
As adults we always have much to learn, but not always the hunger to do so. We'd do well to look at the children around us, and learn a little from their hunger. And from their eating habits.
That's what helps them grow.