In preparing for the interview with Gregg Levoy on this month’s program schedule, I ran across this from his book, Vital Signs. “Through the rapped knuckles of our upbringings most of us learned early on that the full throated expression of who we are isn’t necessarily welcome, and we end up with internalized scolds telling us to sit still, pipe down, not be a show off, not be smarter than the boys, and not let ‘em see you cry. We end up suppressing whole sectors of our passion in life force to get on with the powers that be, to approximate the good boy, the good girl.”
That passage got me thinking about the possible advantage of having had a relatively unsupervised childhood. In addition to the downside of little adult supervision to prevent my older brother and sister from brandishing their power over both me and my little brother, there was an upside. Braving the fierce gale of my older siblings, I learned early on how to stand up for myself. In addition to standing my ground with defiant fierceness, I was able to give full expression to my authentic voice and enthusiastic vitality. The adult voices that might have asked me to cool down my natural liveliness were rarely present. As a result, even today people say my irrepressible joy for life is infectious. I equate that exuberance with a healthy life force.
When I interviewed Levoy I asked him to expand on something the astronomer and cosmologist, the late Carl Sagan, said about teaching kindergarteners versus teenagers. Levoy said that Sagan was looking at the ways in which we lose our sense of vitality, exuberance, wonder, and awe. “Sagan was describing the difference between going into a kindergarten class and a high school class to teach science. Sagan described: ‘The kindergarteners were open for business. They’re endlessly enthusiastic, they’re avidly curious, they’re natural born scientists, and they’d never heard of a stupid question. The high schoolers were jaded and the sense of wonder [which Levoy personally thinks of as one of the active ingredients in a passionate life], relegated to kid stuff. They’re embarrassed to not know and, of course, terrified of asking dumb questions.’ “ Levoy went on to say, “I look at that as an example of how readily we lose our vitalities, our enthusiasms, our authenticities, and our sense of awe at the world.”
Levoy further comments on why it is important to ask questions, “I learned early on in life, primarily through my dad, that there was no shame attached to not knowing something. And that not knowing and asking questions [are] the root of discovery, and discovery is a big part of living passionately in my opinion.”
I encourage us to be brave and leave our sophisticated, know-it-all self behind, letting our delightful, enthusiastic, questioning kindergarten self shine through.
—Justine Willis Toms
Cofounder, Executive Director, Host