Innocence can be defined in terms of freedom from guilt or sin through being unacquainted with evil: Innocence is often associated with blamelessness, chastity, simplicity, and lack of worldly knowledge. Many feel people have lost all innocence. Have they? Let's explore what innocence really is.
William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognized during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of both the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. Blake was also a critical thinking and philosopher.
What was Blake’s definition of innocence?
1) The condition of man before the fall. Innocence is characteristic of or belonging to the time or state before the fall of humankind (Biblical reference).
2) On another level (internally and psychologically) innocence applies to the child who has not yet experienced the inner divisions of human life. Childhood is a time of protected innocence.
So, how did Blake define experience?
1) As an inner state representing feelings.
2) As the world of normal adult life in which adults try to analyze their feelings of direct observation or participation, and therefore become incapable of spontaneity. Society exerts the outside influences that bring experience and is a corrupting influence.
3) In the human condition, the child is not immune to the fallen world and its institutions. This world sometimes impinges on childhood itself, and in any event becomes known through "experience," the stage of being marked by the loss of childhood vitality, by fear and inhibition, by social and political corruption, and by the manifold oppression of Church, State, and the ruling classes.
4) However, Blake saw experience as not just bitter but as an opportunity to gain wisdom. The natural harmony of innocence is lost but insight comes in its place.
Blake believed with wisdom, people could organize their divided selves and forge a new unity. He understood humans could never regain the original state of innocence, but this new “organized innocence” was even more desirable to Blake.
Why was it more valuable? Blake believed an innocent child does not yet know right from wrong – in this state, the child makes no choices for good or evil. He does not even know he is in this state of innocence. Only when a child grows to adulthood, begins to fashion experiences, and suffers, does the child become aware of his choices.
The “Fortunate Fall” to Blake was the realization that man and woman had to fall and become experienced and knowledgeable to be free and have free will. Blake said, “Without contraries (Innocence vs. Experience) there is no progress. The progress Blake referred to was progress toward being in harmony with the lost innocence. Blake saw experience as energy driving people toward this desire to regain lost innocence.
Let's simplify Blake's views:
- We are born without inner divisions, unknowing, and protected by others: innocent. (But by our very birth, we are destined to enter a flawed world.)
- As we grow, society exerts outside influences upon us that bring experience and inevitable division and corruption.
- Corruption causes us to become incapable of expressing undivided childhood traits of complete spontaneity, lack of inhabition, and unbridled vitality.
- We are then forced to form a new unity with innocence as we become aware of our free will and our ability to make our own choices.
- The contraries of our innocence vs. our experience produce harmony and progress. With this wisdom, we gain new insight.
- And, with new insight of the contrary nature of living, we begin to desire to regain lost innocence.
Innocence is a concept that continually evolves. Cultural ideas about what is “innocent” change. Each generation has its own concepts of what innocence means based on ever-changing mores, manners, and customs. In that sense, desires to return to lost innocence certainly mean something different to 65 year-old grandparents and 35 year-old parents.
A particular state of innocence may endure as long as people believe that individuals or forces outside themselves can provide easy solutions to the complex and, at times, chaotic problems that confront them every day. When innocence falls to change because experience renders its utility useless, people must learn to cope with new modern conceptions. For example, the old, trusting practice of not locking the doors of one's home at night has become risky and ill-advised.
Then, should people give up worrying about regaining lost innocence? I don't think so. I understand we can never return to our past and change everything back to the “good old days.” Besides, we know now that some of old innocence was not “good” at all. We actually needed more knowledge then that might have optimized our past experiences.
Carry Me Back...
Still, I would love to see some lost innocence regained. Today, I just want to vent a little innocence longing with a want list of my own.
- Highly revealing clothes, gaudy tattoos and in-your-face. “I don't give a flying _ _ _ _ , bi-atch” behavior is nasty. Want sexy? Go innocent and moderately understated.
- Screaming, whining, and constantly complaining about “who's doing what” to you is extremely annoying and totally unproductive. Want help? Ask nicely; say 'please' and 'thank you.'”
- High school students have not developed the necessary “total” package of reasoning and responsibility to match their mature looks. Most have a Ford Fiesta brain in a Ferrari body. Innocent, fun time dating can be much better than steady, heavy-duty love affairs.
- Speaking of high schools... high schools are not colleges. Classes can be challenging within reason and at grade level. Too many high schools want to take over the role of colleges by offering programs for college credit instead of concentrating on developing crucial skills and critical thinking.
- Playing a grade school or a high school sport should not be a year-around, all-consuming passion for an athlete, not should it be an ego trip for a “star starved” parent. Students require social development outside of structured events, and they require free time to rest and digest everything that is rapidly changing in their environments.
- Parents need to realize that giving their children “everything” and buying their affection and good behavior is creating spoiled, material-minded, lazy bums. Chores won't kill children and possessions won't lead to success. Teaching morals and values will help them as they learn responsibility.
- Many adults in a child's community contribute to his or her positive growth. Listening to life lessons from seniors and befriending trusted adults, a child gains valuable wisdom and new perspectives. This adult friend isn't always the coach or the teacher. Managers, bosses, business acquaintances, counselors, neighbors – all can be helpful.
- Young people must be independent/dependent. They must have the flexibility to find good, helpful interests. They must be encouraged to practice integrity and work independently. They must be given opportunities to lead and to speak out with reason. Yet, youth must build strong friendships with positive peers and friends that pay dividends in character. They must realize the value of group interaction. And, they must respect the common good.
“The essential self is innocent,
and when it tastes its own innocence
knows that it lives for ever.”