“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”
― Anne Frank
Innocence vs. Naive
I have often been called naive for my optimistic attitude and joyful nature. I live fairly carefree and my life (especially on social media) is full of good and exciting things.
While I am very well aware of the struggles of life and have lived through things that not many know about, that doesn’t mean that I will give up my joyful and optimistic nature. I know there are terrible things going on in the world. My own life has been riddled with tragedy,
I do still give off a joyful innocence vibe when people meet me. And that innocence is often mistaken for naivete.
But wait, how can someone who has experienced as much as I have still be considered “innocent”?
-been sexually abused
-broken off 2 engagements
-been cheated on
-mentally and emotionally abused
-lost 3 out of 4 siblings (stillborn, suicide, and murdered)
Not to mention watching those I love dealing with addiction, cancer & other health issues, seeing the racism, ageism, politics, and general chaos of society, yet I still manage to appear innocent.
I have lived through literal hell several times where my entire life has come crashing down around me, yet people will still apologize for swearing in my presence. It’s kind of sweet and incredibly significant how often that innocence changes others. I’m not upset about it.
Life is hard.
But let me just share the difference between the words innocent and naive. This will clear up the difference and show a little about how it is possible to be one and not the other.
Naive is defined by the Oxford dictionary as, “showing a lack of experience, wisdom, or judgment.”
There aren’t very many who can make it to adulthood without experiencing some sort of difficulty from life. Challenges meet us at every corner with mental health issues, politics, loss, and more.
Those that do may still show a lack of wisdom or good judgement. However, just because someone's opinion may differ from ours, that doesn’t mean they are naive to the issue, but their experience has taught them different things. They may simply see a side that you don’t.
There is no pancake so thin that it has only one side.
Life is complex.
Naivete comes from thinking there is only one way, one resolution, and a simple fix.
Innocence is another story completely. Again turning to the Oxford dictionary, we find that it is, “not guilty of a crime or offense” or “not responsible for or directly involved in an event yet suffering its consequences.”
That’s a pretty big difference from naive, which is not having any experience or wisdom at all.
In fact, the innocent are the LEAST likely to be considered naive. They have seen the consequences of an action and even felt it’s far-reaching effects. With this comes wisdom and increased judgment.
People can be considered innocent because they are just good people. This doesn’t mean they are perfect. Far from it. It simply means that they are choosing not to sink to the level of those who hurt them.
The Power of Choice
I was taught growing up that two wrongs don’t make a right. It didn’t matter when my little sister hit me, I could choose to hit her back, or I could choose not to hit her. Both have consequences. No, she shouldn’t have hit me, but am I going to also make a bad choice because she made one?
The same principles apply as adults. We are the ones who choose our actions from day to day and no one forces us to do anything we don’t want to do.
We strip away our own power of choice when we play the victim.
We say we have to go to work, but really what we are choosing is the financial security or the job. We say we have to go to the doctor when we are really choosing to prioritize our health.
The difference is in how we CHOOSE to look at things. We can choose to be pessimistic and fill the role of the victim, or we can take responsibility and see the good in the choices we are making.
Bringing Back Innocence
When we make choices that do good to the world around us, we get back that innocence. Yes, I was cheated on. Rather than being vindictive, I simply broke ties with him. It was hard, I still had to deal with all of the emotions that come with breaking up, wondering what I did wrong, and refiguring out my life with him no longer in the picture.
For the record, I’ve also noticed a funny pattern. Anytime there is a problem, I am there. I have personal responsibility in each action I take and it has consequences.
Take for example the time I was cheated on. That was obviously his choice, but what role did I play? I found out he was gay, but still continued in the relationship. He cheated on me because I wasn’t a man. There are obviously factors that I couldn’t change that affected the dynamic of the relationship. But I chose to stay.
So while he shouldn’t have cheated, how much of that pain was my fault for not watching the red flags? It would have sucked breaking up with him, but probably would have hurt less than being cheated on.
Make Good Choices
Whenever I went to my cousin and best friend’s house in high school, my Aunt Cathy would tell us when we left, “Make good choices, and remember I love you!” Note she wasn’t telling us to be perfect. And regardless of our choices, she always reinforced her love for us. (I know, I was super lucky. Not everyone has such positive relationships, but that isn’t the point.)
The point is we don’t have to be perfect.
While some people may come incredibly close to it in their old age (think Gandhi or Mother Theresa), they were once young. They made choices they weren’t proud of. But once they learned to do better, they became better.
We don’t look at people like Gandhi or Mother Theresa and think they are naive. They experienced hardships and knew the meaning of struggle. Yet they chose to do good in the world around them. They chose the wisdom that came from their experiences.
They chose to grow and become better.
The vast majority of us may not make it to the level of Gandhi and Mother Theresa. That’s ok. We don't have to be perfect, but we do have to choose good. Because we aren’t perfect, others may think that we are naive and innocent, but they will be only half right.
Innocence means we are doing our best. We may not be perfect, but we learn and grow when bad things happen. We can recognize our personal responsibility when things go wrong.
What if it wasn’t our fault?
Sometimes we don’t have that personal responsibility. I get that. I’m mostly saying that we play a bigger role than we think we do. We can’t play the victim in our choices, because otherwise, we can’t heal. Others make choices that will affect our lives. This is where pure innocence comes into play.
When my brother was murdered, I played zero part in what happened. There was nothing I could have done that would have changed that outcome. There is no way of knowing if my calling the night before would have changed anything. My brother made his choices. Others made their choices. I just have to deal with the consequences. And believe me, it sucks.
Keep in mind, this is fresh for me still and I’m crying as I write this. It hasn’t even been a year. But I can choose to grieve. I can choose to heal.
Healing doesn’t mean forgetting Travis. Healing means letting go of the guilt I felt for not calling the night before. Healing means letting go of the anger. Healing means appreciating the good things about our relationship, strained as it was. Healing means I can learn to appreciate the relationship with my sister — the one sibling I have left — before it’s too late. Healing means eventually I will be able to forgive.
Healing plays a large part in the concept of innocence. If I choose not to heal from this experience, I will eventually lower myself to the same level as the woman who killed my brother. I can let the anger and unfairness of it all stick around. It may be just in the back of my mind for a while, but it will fester and rot. This starts to then spread and affect me in other ways.
I may be angry more often and start flipping people off in traffic. I get more irritated with coworkers who can’t mind their own business. I could dwell on how this woman is a rotten human being who doesn’t deserve to live. I may imagine all of the harm I could inflict on her and her family.
But how does that help me? Key tip: It doesn’t.
All that does is perpetuate hurt and anger in others, and not just hers, either. It affects everyone. That’s not what I want my life to be about.
Pure innocence is recognizing our lack of control over the situation and letting it go. It means choosing to do good in the face of wrongdoing. It is the wisdom of looking at the long term consequences, rather than just looking at my pain here and now.
This is what allows me to stay joyful and optimistic. Because I choose joy and good. Because I choose me and what I stand for more than letting pain and hurt dominate my life.
Innocence isn’t a state of weakness. Innocence is a strength to maintain my values no matter what life throws my way.
Innocence is the strength to determine what my life will look like.
It means I am willing to fight for goodness, not with violence, but with my choice to spread more goodness rather than spreading the opposite.
I will not let pain, hurt, and anger control my choices. I control my choices.
And I choose goodness, light, and love.
What do you choose?
If you found anything good or helpful in this article, clap it up. The more you clap, the more others see it. Help me spread the goodness?
You can also find more tips on real strength in my books, Awkwardly Strong, Tragically Strong, and Fearfully Strong. Find them HERE.