There’s a lot of wisdom to be found in this world if you know where to find it. I think the Dalai Lama said that. He was probably in a hurry; he’s said better things.Like “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” Nailed it.
And “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Yes, Mr Lama. Bosh.
I’ve been pondering the acquisition of knowledge a lot lately. Mainly in a meandering kind of way, but the other day I was provoked into an almost sudden death knowledge type scenario. I was asked to clarify something as my eight year old nephew Elliot was doing his maths homework. I froze as I looked at the screen of numbers. Did he not know me at all? And then I realised – no. He wasn’t there for the years of feeling dumb, the years of extra tuition with an old Welsh man who spittled his tea over me like Mr Twit, he wasn’t there for the torturous revision, the horrifying exams, and the panic for weeks afterwards waiting for results day. He wasn’t there, because he wasn’t born. So he didn’t know that Maths was my old nemesis. He just wanted to ask me something about minus numbers.
I looked at the sum. Said something vague, which, to my staggering surprise, turned out to be right. But then I ran out of wisdom for the other questions. I couldn’t teach him anything; I couldn’t help.
I realised I haven’t really had to think about all that stuff since 1996 when school was telling me if I couldn’t get up to C grade level Maths my life was essentially over. I might as well hurl myself on the reject pile before the world did it for me. But the moment I opened that envelope confirming the hard-acquired C, Maths went out of my head. I’ve done bits and bobs in shops and whatnot, but the pressure otherwise dissipated immediately. So why had it been so important?
If we’re just going to forget stuff, what’s the point of learning?
I wondered what Elliot believed was important to know as humans, right now, while he is that glorious all-is-possible age of eight. I quizzed him while he ate his pasta.
I asked him what really important stuff he’d learnt lately. He told me that e-safety was crucial. They’re doing assemblies on it at his school at the moment, so you’d expect him to be scathingly satirical and culturally up-to-date on it. He said something wise about me not even knowing what pixels were when I was his age. I told him to “watch it, sunshine.”
I asked him how he thinks people can be happy.
He said “I think people would be happier if they did more of the stuff they like”.
I asked him what he didn’t like about becoming an adult.
He said “I am not looking forward to getting older and older and then dying.”
At one point while I was questioning him, he put his chin in his hand and said “This is hard, isn’t it”, and I said yes. I loved him for thinking of the answers to questions that really aren’t his concern yet.
I asked him what the coolest thing he knew was. He answered “how to build lego – you can build whatever you want – the first thing that pops into your head and then you try to make it – that’s really cool.”
I asked him what he was most proud of in his life.
He said “learning how to speak, or otherwise I would not be doing this at all”
“what, helping me with my column?”
“Yeah” (I didn’t tell him that was a doubtful privilege.)
“Oh, and getting my imagination. And maybe learning how to write. That’s really good. You need to learn how to write.”
And I realised, properly realised, while Elliot thought really hard about stuff with pasta sauce around his mouth, that this super sweet and naturally wise eight year old was going to be one of my best friends for life.