Naiveté or innocence? There is a fine line separating their definitions. Naiveté is associated with childhood but is frequently used in relation to adults who lack sophistication and complexity. Meantime innocence means that one has done no wrong, has not committed a crime, or in the spiritual sense–moral purity. A person who possesses innocence will not intentionally harm others nor themselves. Naiveté is often seen as a character deficit; while innocence is largely considered charming and positive.
Innocence came immediately to mind the other day while I admired a litter of kittens being cared for in the hallway of my friend Carlos’ house. The complete innocence of the tiny creatures melted my heart. Everyone in our friends group sported goofy grins because we couldn’t help it. I wondered when each kitten would lose her/his innocence.
The killer/hunter instinct arises early in predatory species such as felines. Soon after weaning, they are drilled in survival tactics by their mothers and siblings. When it comes to innocence, cats are rather complex. Yet, one of life’s joys is to observe tiny kittens as they clumsily go about their catty business of attacking toys and each other.
As a rule, we humans begin life with both naiveté and innocence. Depending upon the cultural norms in which we are raised, we lose most of our innocence before losing very much of our naiveté. Many parents remark that their children lose innocence during the “terrible twos”–when toddlers become insufferable. Meantime naiveté can remain in the minds of many adults until their dying days.
Children lose the remainder of their innocence due to various factors: such as, the degree of poverty or abundance present in their families; whether or not they suffer abuse; whether or not society is in turmoil and upheaval, and so forth. It has been said that each life is a journey away from innocence through the temptations of vices and self righteousness.
“Those who improve with age embrace the power of personal growth and personal achievement and begin to replace youth with with wisdom, innocence with understanding, and lack of purpose with self-actualization.”–personal development author and CEO, Bo Bennett
The Bennett quote is a real nugget of value–well worth contemplating. Bennett puts the concept of innocence in proper context and perspective. As we grow older and hopefully wiser, we lose our naiveté and innocence. This enables us to more effectively cope and live in the world. The wise person also realizes that it is beneficial to retain a small slice of innocence so as to understand life from a less jaded point of view. This hint of innocence is the catalyst for imagination and creativity.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes 18th-19th century journalist, novelist, and political philosopher, William Godwin. “Innocence is not virtue. Virtue demands the active employment of an ardent mind in the promotion of the general good. No man can be eminently virtuous who is not accustomed to an extensive range of reflection.”