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Guest blog by Jon Krausher, President of Jon Kraushar and Associates, New York, New York. Reprinted by permission.
Wilma Davidson’s intro to the article: A longtime mentor of mine, Jon Krausher, still influences me; and, as we look toward 2021, his words of wisdom (along with Bob Dylan’s) are worth reprinting as this week’s blog.
Around 600 B.C., the Greeks used a baby as a New Year’s symbol of rebirth. Today, the New Year’s baby, depicted in a diaper, top hat and sash, continues to evoke rejuvenation, possibility and optimism. We look at that turn-of-the-year infant and we aspire to a regeneration of youthfulness: to improve and even reinvent ourselves.
After reading Geeks and Geezers, a book about young and old leaders by Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas, it occurred to me that we should take on the best characteristics of the New Year’s baby all year round. Bennis and Thomas write about the “overriding importance [of] neoteny. The dictionary defines neoteny, a zoological term, as ‘the retention of youthful qualities by adults.’ ”
Bennis and Thomas add that the “…wonderful qualities that we associate with youth [are] curiosity, playfulness, eagerness, fearlessness, warmth, energy—open[ness], willing[ness] to take risks, [hunger] for knowledge and experience, courageous[ness], eager[ness] to see what the new day brings. Neoteny is a metaphor for the quality—the gift—that keeps the fortunate of whatever age focused on all the marvelous undiscovered things to come.”
The artist Picasso could have been talking about neoteny when he said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” The physicist and Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman, combined brilliance with a neotenous nature (he wrote a book titled Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman). “I’m going to play with physics,” said Dr. Feynman, “…without worrying about any importance whatsoever…I’m just doing it for the fun of it.”
Many of my favorite people are neotenous. My mom maintained her child-like curiosity and wonder about the world right up to her death at age 96 and my dad’s youthful warm personality made many people smile in his 87 years of life.
I’ve watched our 35-year-old neuroscientist son Matthew tear down rocky trails on his mountain bike. I applaud his skill and marvel at his still-boyish fearlessness. I recall that as a child, on a family ski trip, Matthew calmly maneuvered to the most treacherous “black diamond” slope and rocketed down to a perfect finish, propelled by the same daring and zest for new experiences he showed as a baby.
The expression that the child is the father of the man extends to women as well. No one is more girlishly energetic than my dear wife, Linda. As a youngster, she always pitched in on family chores, earning admiration for her “helping hands.” Unlike me, Linda is constantly doing something productive. When she takes a rare moment to sit down, I ask her, “Is everything OK?”
Our 33-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, has a neotenous passion for learning that serves her (and others) well in her job as a product manager at Facebook. Her happy disposition and joyful laughter make her fun to be around just as she was as a baby.
Son-in-law Kyle and Matthew’s partner, Anne, are also neotenous: always up for a new adventure.
Then there is our almost 10-year-old miniature dachshund, Bailey, whom I nicknamed “Puppy” because he still acts like one—lively and mischievous.
“Do not grow old, no matter how long you live,” advised Albert Einstein, adding, “Never cease to stand like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we were born.”
The desire for neoteny is captured in a song called “Forever Young,” by Bob Dylan, expressing his hopes for his then 8-year-old son, Jesse. In the coming year—and thereafter—my family and I wish for you and yours what Dylan wrote:
“May God bless and keep you always. May your wishes all come true. May you always do for others, And let others do for you. May you build a ladder to the stars, And climb on every rung. May you stay forever young. May your hands always be busy. May your feet always be swift. May you have a strong foundation, When the winds of changes shift. May your heart always be joyful. May your song always be sung. May you stay forever young.”
Jon Kraushar is a trainer and communications strategist for business, political and media leaders and co-authored "You Are the Message," chosen as one of the "year's best" business books by The Wall Street Journal.