“Naive” is generally a description we do not hold proudly. It is either used for children or for people who we see as immature or gullible. People who are not seasoned in the the ways of the world. Who are unsophisticated. Simpletons. It is not a word that majority of people would want to make to the shortlist of their character traits. It is perceived as a flaw. As something that needs to be corrected. Something to grow out of.
But before we go further, let’s look at what the dictionary says about the word. The dictionary gives 2 definitions.
- lacking experience of life, knowledge or good judgment and willing to believe that people always tell you the truth:
- (approving) (of people and their behavior) innocent and simple:
It is a quite narrow definition. But if we look at the root of the word, it is not so narrowly categorized. The word “naive” is derived from the Latin word for “natural”. A word that we are much more familiar with. A word that is much more favored than the word “naive”. Taking this new information in account, true naivety can thus be defined as absence of artificiality. As unaffected simplicity of nature. And with this definition, it becomes much less an insult and more a quality to which we might actually aspire.
But if the word naive is in fact a good quality, why then is it seen with so much negativity? Let us, once again, go back to the dictionary and look at the first definition of the word. It says, a naive person is “lacking experience of life”. I want to ask what kind of experience is this? Is it experience of people keeping their promises? No! Is it experience of never being wronged? No! Is it experience of never having to regret a decision to trust? No! To the contrary, the lack of experience that is being talked about here is actually the experience of being wronged. Of being manipulated, violated and broken. Never the experience of laughter or joy, never of trusty friends keeping their promises. The experience referred to here is only the experience of the dark variety.
Further, the definition speaks about “Lacking knowledge or good judgment”. These certainly do sound like a disadvantage. Knowledge and good judgment are really qualities worth having. But when I look into my own mind I realize that there are things that I know that I wish I had never known. I have knowledge that I regret having. It is a burden I wish I never had to bear. Everyone knows what I mean, and if you don’t just open today’s newspaper and you’ll come across an event that will permanently modify your outlook of the world for the worse. Just like in the earlier case of experience, the lack of knowledge that is being talked about here is the knowledge of how depraved and perverse the world has become.
So, the reason that naivety is perceived as a flaw in the world is not because it is essentially a flaw, but because of the state in which the world is! In a better world, in a perfect world, naivety would be all that we required!
But let us go one step further and think about what it means not to be naive. Or rather, what it means to know the world. If a person is not naive, does it not mean that he will bend the rules even just a little to his advantage? Does it not mean that he will take advantage of people who are gullible for his own advantage? That he will take shortcuts whether it is right or wrong? Does it not mean to have a permanent courtroom in your head where everyone is on trial? It seems to me that to such a worldly person, right and wrong or good and bad matter much less than advantageous and disadvantageous. For people who leave their naivety, morality stops being the driving principle and selfishness takes over the driver’s seat. It matters very little what others might suffer because of one person’s selfishness. And what about those who become victims of this selfishness? “They are naive. They must learn to live with it. It will make them strong. If they don’t, it’s their loss.” That’s how the world justifies itself. Simply put, the message is, “This is a dog eat dog world. It’s no place for children. The only way to live here is to leave off your naivety & innocence and play by the rules I dictate.” And these are the rules: anything you do is fine as long as you’re not caught.
But this type of thinking is flawed. Not only flawed, it’s quite simply wrong. And it makes men, less than what they used to be. The experiences that lead to one leaving one’s naivety behind also hardens the heart and grim the outlook of the world. It makes the person vary of every kind act and suspicious of grace. The proposal of someone doing a good deed for the sake of goodness start to look otherworldly. And if we go to the logical conclusion of this kind of thinking, in the end, the person himself will become incapable of doing good. Unless he leaves off the principles of the world.
And that is exactly what I propose to do. I propose that we look back in time and remember a time when we were still children. When the world was full of wonders. A time where in our youthful innocence, being a “Good boy” still meant something. Before a time when being “cool” or being a “bad boy” became fashionable. I ask that can we look at that child from our past and learn something from him? Can we learn to be like him again?
I propose to be naive again. But how can anyone decide to be naive? Is not naivety just a quality strongest when we are children but ebbs away as we grow up and experience perversity and horrors of the world? Yes, it is certainly that. But having lost that, I also think that we can still go back if we choose to.
Let me be frank. This essay has been more than 2 years in the making. And it is as much an argument as it is autobiographical. About 4 years ago, I had a sudden epiphany. I looked at where the world was going and what I was becoming. At the same time I looked at the childhood I was leaving behind. And I realized that the philosophy that I was leaving behind was much more complete than the the one that I was expected to accept. I decided there to stay naive since there’s no better alternative.
The decision to be naive is not an easy decision to make and certainly not an easy decision to live. To tell the truth, the first naivety of childhood has long been forgotten and I cannot go back even if I wanted to. I’ve seen enough, read enough to know that the pit of human depravity is bottomless. But still, in my dictionary being naive means to be generous. It means to trust people. To put away the spectacles of prejudices & discrimination based on caste, creed, race, color, status, sex etc & take people at their face value. To give them a chance, a second chance, a third chance and then, as many as they require. To put faith in them when no one else will. It means to be prepared to be hurt in order to heal. To sow so that others may reap. To do all this and still keep a smiling face and a joyful heart.
It sounds very hard to do, but then again, it is the easiest thing to do. Because it’s in our very nature. We are wired to trust what people say. We are not wired to deceive each other. If we do, we feel guilty. And those who don’t feel guilty are called sociopaths. A medically recognized mental condition. But being naive is still more than going back to our original nature. Living like this is like a breath of fresh air. For you and for the whole world. When one begins to live naively, he begins restoring the world back to its original innocence. First, through his own perspective he sees not the worst but the best in people. Not the ugliness but the beauty of the world. Then, through his actions, he begins to diffuse the artificiality of people who come in contact with him. Because slowly they begin to realize, for that one person, yes means yes and no means no. It’s as simple as that. And this simplicity is contagious. Slowly but surely, this simplicity, this going back to innocence can change the world.
It might sound like very foolish advice, but I believe in this foolishness with all my heart! Because I’m not the first person to walk this path of foolishness. There have been many before me, but before all of them goes the creator of the world! What shall I tell you about his naivety? Shall I tell you about his choice of Jewish people about which William Norman says, “How odd of God to choose the Jews”? Or shall I tell you about his choice in disciples? Or maybe I can tell you about all the disqualifications of the people who he chose to deliver nations!
I can go on, but I will speak on none of these. Instead I’d like to tell you about how he, after watching over humanity for thousands of years, after seeing every despicable act being committed against innocents, chose to be born as a baby, helpless and fragile, in that very world. How he gave himself over in the hands of his creation. But that’s not all! He came not to conquer, but to submit. Not to be served, but to serve. Not to condemn evil men, but to save them. Not to be glorified, but to be despised. Not to live as king, but to die among criminals. And in doing all these he changed the world. So much so that he is regarded as the central figure in history who divided history in two. He is regarded as the most humane teacher although he would refuse such a title. His teachings run contrary to everything that world promotes. He calls us to be “as innocent as doves” and teaches us to go “one extra mile”. When all that the world knew was “an eye for an eye” he taught us to “turn the other cheek”. A philosophy, that played a pivotal role in freedom struggle of India. The last two thousand years stand witness to the truth of his teachings. And perhaps, the last two thousand years also stand in defense of naivety.