Saturday, November 03, 2007

Naivete: Good or Bad?

In my opinion, naivete is a very useful and desirable trait in many, many cases. If you get into a political discussion and put forth an idealistic policy proposal from either the left or the right perspective, you'll almost certainly be treated to the snide comment from your opponent: "don't be naive". This is usually delivered with rolled eyes and an optional heaving sigh.

Why is naivete such a dirty word? What's wrong with it? From

Main Entry:
or na·ïve
Inflected Form(s):
na·iv·er; na·iv·est
French naïve, feminine of naïf, from Old French, inborn, natural, from Latin nativus native
1: marked by unaffected simplicity : artless, ingenuous2 a: deficient in worldly wisdom or informed judgment; especially : credulous b: not previously subjected to experimentation or a particular experimental situation naive rats>; also : not having previously used a particular drug (as marijuana) c: not having been exposed previously to an antigen <naive T cells>3 a: self-taught, primitive b: produced by or as if by a self-taught artist <naive murals>
synonyms see natural
Depending on the situation, I guess naivete really isn't such a bad thing in most cases. When I think of naivete, I usually think of definition 1. Unaffected. Simple. Artless. Ingenuous. Yes. Not difficult to understand, not mucked up with a bunch of "sophisticated" stuff. Just straightforward attitude and behavior. This is how I like my politics. And this is essential for effective fostering. A kid who has been abused or been around other behaviors is usually not very naive. They've been around the block, often several times too many. They've also usually got finely tuned bullshit detectors and know how to spot "sophisticated" adults a mile away and usually how to defeat their sophistication as well.

An adult (or even sometimes a kid) that is or acts truly naive, though, usually presents more of a challenge for them. At first, their reaction is probably going to be one more of scorn, much like any political proposal presented to a conservative that is touted as being "for the children" or "for the poor". But most of these kids are smart. They may put up a scornful front, but they'll analyze the adult in their own good time and come to a private conclusion, just like a canny politician. If an adult (or a policy proposal) seems to have good underlying merit, often that initial scorn will replaced with wary acceptance on a trial basis.

And that's what we're after in fostering, isn't it? If you can just pry up the edge of that armor, it's a chance to prove that no, you are not in fact going to stick a shiv into his/her guts as soon as you get the chance. You're different than many of the other adults they've had to deal with in their lives, and you honestly, truly want to help them however you can.

Me personally? I'm more likely to scorn people who are desperate to prove that meaning 2b doesn't apply to them. They don't want to be "deficient in worldly wisdom". Well, worldly wisdom is highly overrated, if you ask me. In my view, "worldly wisdom" is one of the primary reasons there is even a foster system to begin with. Give me meaning 1 any day.

I have an aunt who comes off (at least to me) as one of the most naive people I know. She's lived in the same tiny town her whole life, doesn't get out much, to my knowledge hasn't traveled much, and her concerns are almost exclusively related to her family's, her community's and her own well-being. She is a favorite of all of our mutual acquaintances. I, who have traveled all over the US on business and pleasure and lived in The Big City for years, am not necessarily one of their favorites.

I think she's on to least as far as personal happiness and genuine popularity are concerned. And really, when all the artifice and affectation is stripped away, aren't personal happiness and genuine popularity for who you really are at your core a couple of really great things?


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