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Best Possible Selves 24

Saturday, March 25, 2017

When young children think about being their best possible selves, they are blissfully unrestrained in their enthusiasms. And while the range of "best possible young person's behaviors" may be limited generally to following rules, being kind to others, and showing respect for community norms, I find it remarkable that young children bring so much positive energy to this endeavor. Equally important, their goodwill seems to manifest itself both at school and at home. Their aspirations are relatively limited, and their benchmarks are rather straightforward.

This is not to say that young children are always consistent in their attempts to reach "best possible selfhood," nor that the challenge does not become more complex as children grow older and turn into sometimes cantankerous adults. So what happens in our journey toward adulthood? Why does it seem that few adults are so brashly confident about being their best possible selves as compared to children? One option is simply to conclude that the ideal of "best possible selfhood" is attainable only for children and that such an ideal is simply not possible for adults. After all, the one-dimensional aspirations of our youth become far more complex and far more idiosyncratic as we grow into self-defining, self-actualizing adults. If our behavior as children may be measured against the yardstick of adult expectation, it is not at all clear by what measure we would evaluate ourselves as potentially "best possible adult selves."

To me, the delineating factor between childhood enthusiasm and adulthood equivocation is that of destiny-choosing. As young children we rarely imagine that a destiny is ours to choose. Indeed, those rare children who do engage in such thinking may be thought of as "old souls." Either way, as we eventually grow into adulthood, we find ourselves blessed with some substantial freedoms while potentially saddled with some equally daunting burdens. I believe that this destiny-choosing aspect of adulthood is precisely what allows us to breathe new life into our childhood aspirations, but I also recognize that it can become overwhelming, if not paralyzing. The best elixir I know of is simply to spend time with some enthusiastic children.