Naivete, and the Light in their Eyes

I dropped off my son at camp yesterday, a beautiful nature-oriented camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains. When we got there a familiar feeling welled up inside me, the feeling of Return. I might articulate it as, "This is how human beings are supposed to live."

I'm not talking about it as an economic or social model -- what gave me that feeling of homecoming was something more subtle. It was the easy smiles on peoples' faces, the default friendliness, and the light in their eyes. I noticed my son come alive as we stepped into the camp and saw the same light kindle in his eyes as well. Here, it seemed, the default state of the human being is two or three notches happier than what we consider normal.

Needless to say, this elevated state of ease and joy doesn't depend on luxury or consumption. The lifestyle there is simple, the cabins austere. Electronics and cell phones are prohibited. The food is organic and prepared from scratch. There are few modern conveniences and no imported entertainment. In short, there are few of the "goods and services" by which economics measures our standard of living.

One cannot help but think, "The whole world could live like this. Everybody is supposed to have this light in their eyes." Can you not feel that truth inside you? Having seen it (and I am sure many of you have), can there be any doubt that our dead, dispirited, zombified world is an aberration, a departure from our native state?

I do feel that truth, and yet I still doubt. A cynical voice inside me says that the camp is the exception, an artificial bubble subsidized from the outside and insulated from the drudgery and degradation of the "real world." The cynic says, it is like getting drunk. All seems rosy, until one returns, as one must, to the problems that await.

That inner cynic is articulating a wound. I have noticed that when I catch a glimpse of a more beautiful world, a feeling of pain quickly follows the initial upliftment. Maybe it is because the contrast between what is and what could be is painful to see. The cynical voices saying, "It is a bubble," "It can't be that good," "Those people aren't really that happy here," "You are imagining the light in their eyes," "It's just an escape from a doomed world," and so on are giving form to a wound. That wound is none other than the wound of Separation: from nature, from community, from intimacy, from our bodies, from play, joy, dance, laughter, all the things that have been squeezed out of modern life. We clothe that wound, invisible to us, with our cynical stories, and deride our own tender naivete, that accepts the heart-knowledge of our native radiance.

One of the criticisms I often encounter of my writing is that I am naive. People who haven't read deeply into my work ascribe my optimistic view of humanity's future to an ignorance of the magnitude of the present crisis. Maybe I just don't understand how bad things are. When they learn that I believe the situation is even worse than they think it is, they say I am naive to think people will ever really change, that the power elite will ever change, or that human nature is anything but greedy and selfish. They want me to be more practical, more realistic.

Oddly enough, naivete is both more practical, and more realistic, than cynicism. It is more practical because it is more motivating. The possibility I glimpsed at my son's camp, and that I have glimpsed again and again in special moments in life, impels me to create a better world. I think, "A world without this light in the eyes is intolerable." If change is hopeless, or if human life can be no better, then why bother? If the best possible outcome of all my efforts is a marginal slowdown in our miserable spiral towards extinction, then why bother? I might as well protect me and mine, maximizing my own self-interest just as I cynically believe everyone else will do. Apprehending the projection of his own psychology, the cynic rarely takes action. Thankfully -- thanks to my naivete and to my comrades who nourish it -- I believe the world can and should be more beautiful, and endeavor to make it so.

Naivete is more realistic than cynicism simply because it reflects the truth -- a more beautiful world IS possible. I cannot prove that this is true. Truth isn't something we can prove. It is something we feel. We shy away from feeling it, sometimes, because it is so painful. Its light exposes our wounds. It hurts for me to see the radiance in those children's eyes, contrasting so starkly with the social environment my own children inhabit most of the time, and illuminating the cracks and callouses in my own psyche, the long years wandering in a grey world. To receive the truth of what is possible, and to live from it as a creator, we must be willing to feel the pain of what has been lost. For me, it has been alarming and painful to realize how much of my life was spent half-awake, living as a zombie among zombies as the years slipped by.

To create significant change, one must be a least a little bit naive. It was naive in 1935 to imagine, as Gandhi did, that the British would leave India without a fight. It was naive for Diane Wilson to think she could stop a petrochemical plant on the Gulf of Mexico. It would have been naive to suppose in 1985 that the Berlin Wall would fall and Apartheid end without civil war in a few years. Today the challenges we face, social and ecological, dwarf even these. Pretty much anything worth doing today is impractical, at least from the logic of the cynic. So let us no longer shield ourselves behind cynicism, and let us no longer clothe our hurting in the vocabulary of despair. Please, let us help each other to believe in the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.


  1. Resonating exactly. This is how I feel wenever I go to Biodanza. We are a species in healing, and so many tools are offered to us in this age. it is for a reason!

    • Hi Marianne, I love Biodanza too! I danced a little in SF before I had a baby and couldn’t do evenings anymore, but your post has me intending to join in again. It really has such depth and is an amazing thing for raising one’s vibration.

  2. Sounds a lot like that other “naivete”, to think that if we lived the way the creator intends, life would be what it is supposed to be… Makes sense to me… (Especially when I’ve seen the change happen to people!)
    Jesus was very “naïve” too.

  3. I have experienced something similar to what you describe. I live in Britain at the moment, and when I go back to my home city Buenos Aires I sense that people are less… “neurotic”.
    And when I went to the north of Spain, and stayed in a little town in the middle of the mountains, far from civilisation, I also noticed this absence of neurosis. The interesting thing was that while I was there, I experienced less neurosis in myself (and that’s saying something). There was this sense of… peace, of everything being ok the way it was. No need to go anywhere or do anything. And the lifesyles of the people living there was so simple and basic. One evening we have roasted chestnuts for dinner, nothing more.

    So I do believe that the people at that camp are happier. It’s probably the effect of not being in a space that is, as Derrick Jensen says, entirely self referential, ie: everything around us is human made.

  4. Thank you again Charles for your courage in speaking your truth and encouraging people to TRUST THEMSELVES. In the spiritual coaching that I practice we replace limiting beliefs with limitless ones, knowing that ‘your beliefs will always prove you right.’ Given that like attracts like in this vibrational universe, we must know that our reality always reflects back to us exactly what we believe. It’s my observation that the power and resonance of your work stems from the fact that you write from a deep knowledge that things are the way they are because of CHOICE – that there’s no such thing as human nature, there’s no such thing as the ‘invisible hand of the market’, there are no absolutes of any kind – everything, EVERYTHING in our reality is the result of our choice, personal and collective. We spend so much time denying this truth in our culture because the vast majority of our choices are unconscious (only those at the most gross level are conscious), and as a culture, we are not given even the most basic tools to make the unconscious, conscious – to walk a path step-by-step from helplessness and despair to empowerment and joy. Everything in the Universe is energy (vibration), including us, we can all learn to access our truth in service of creating a joyful life and giving our gifts. When we make a conscious effort to trust and love ourselves a little more each day, we raise our vibration, access more choice, and create the space for miraculous change (aka transformation). As we raise our vibration, it gets easier and easier to let go of what no longer serves and access new possibilities, and we can release tremendous amounts of stuck energy very quickly. These shifts are then reflected in nature – witness the recent discovery in the Amazonian rainforest of a microbe that can digest plastic waste. More and more such miracles will appear as we co-create opportunities to heal our planet in accordance with the group agreements surrounding these times…it’s a joy to join the flow and celebrate with you in the middle of the river!

  5. I agree that people in general seem happier when they aren´t distracted by lots of “stuff”. We don´t have to eliminate technology. After all, without it, we wouldn´t be having this experience together, but I feel we are out of balance with it. I know I am some of the time. Anything is possible and can change on a dime. The world of your dreams already exists and so does a world that gets worse and worse. In fact, all the infinite possibilities of worlds already exist. As, BespiritLed said, it´s all in what you believe and what world you want to step into. So, don´t stop believing!

  6. Thank you Charles for tempting the cynic in me to come forth. My mind was busily writing this beautiful experience off (the joy that actually arose within me from reading the first few paragraphs), as little but a temporary luxury, intending to suppress it with a “back-to-the-real-world” realism. But when this cynic was exposed, there was nobody there, and this realism turned into “realism”.

    Well done! I wish many more people get the chance to experience something similar.

  7. Wow you put my feelings into words and my fears and dreams … I feel the pain and the loss all the time of the world we live in but most of the time l push down the pain and just do the BLAH blah …. time to take the plunge and go for HAPPINESS thanks for the reminder … happy to have found you : )

  8. The difference between the cynic and you is already immense! You see, you feel….
    It is may be not about changing the outer world? Because you are touched already and that is so precious!


  9. I thought that Prince Myshkin was a character from Dostoyevsky’s novel, but he is actually a living person 🙂 And I am so glad to read his reflections. Thank you, Charles!

  10. thank you so much, for this. i feel u express something so deep in my heart, and im in gratitude for your ability to bring it out and expresss it for all of us…
    its amazing how synchronicity is, i was just feeling dejected last night when i started reading it and immediately started feeling elated to have something so cherished expressed so simply, and i instantly felt this was truth to me.

    thank you once again

  11. Just discovered you and your thoughts this morning – thank you for articulating your heart so beautifully.

    I’m in the midst of a discussion with a friend who calls himself cynical about the practicality of idealism, which dovetails with your thoughts here. Idealism and naivety lighten and lift our eyes and our hearts, and from the higher vantage point they provide we may very well be able to see resolutions to our current crises that remain hidden from all downward gazes.

    I look forward to reading more of your work.

  12. “They say that what you mock will surely overtake you. And you become a monster so that the monster will not break you.” Cynicism is an answer, but it is an answer without a solution. A hard heart still feels pain. You do not have to become a “monster” to keep from breaking – that path will eat your soul…slowly. I, too, believe a more beautiful world is possible. On some level, I dare say it already exists.

  13. ‘The light in their eyes’ I feel I am beginning to live that life and I am often called naive. I live somewhere where people really talk to people and people really listen, even if they don’t know you they’ll be late so that they can commune. When you are listened to in that way and when differences can be discussed calmly and without judgement everything is so much easier. People around here are practical and have lived here for generations, so they’re not worried about what’s around the corner. Thing is although I moved here two and a half years ago I don’t know if it really is the place or if it is me, perhaps if I’d done these things and felt this stability where I lived before I would have got the same back. There is a lot to be said for feeling relaxed, finding somewhere we can relax is not easy.

  14. Leibniz said that we live in the best of all possible worlds. This statement was followed by a wave of cynicism, like VOltaires Candide.
    However, Leibniz did not mean the world as it is, but in its potential!

    There is no alternative to optimism!

  15. Charles, thank you so much for all you do, and in particular today thank you for talking about the pain that comes with waking up. I think it’s inevitable, but it’s nice to know I’m not alone. You also speak/write in a way that gives me hope so the pain doesn’t suck me down its vortex.

  16. Thank you for your good words, Charles. I, too, am often accused of being naive. No matter. I would much rather be accused of naivete and hope than anything else. No one can take away one’s hope and faith. These are gifts–pure and simple. Blessings on your journey.

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