We tend to associate innocence with childhood, when we naturally see the world as full of possibility; we are spontaneous, forgiving, creative and fully engaged in the moment. Then as we age our innocence is replaced by experience, and we come to see the world as it really is. As long as we operate, though, on the assumption that innocence is a stage on the way to experience, we fail to grasp the extent to which our loss of innocence shapes our experience of the world. John Izzo, in his book Second Innocence: Rediscovering Joy and Wonder calls us to reclaim our trust and faith in the world. This “second innocence” does not deny what we know, but is a choice we make in light of what we know.
Since our loss of innocence is generally a move toward a bit of cynicism, we might find ourselves struggling to engage deeply in the possibilities life offers. There is a tension, after all, between engaging and holding back. Can I fully love after I have been betrayed? Can I work enthusiastically after having once been fired? Can I claim a life of integrity after having bent the rules?
Believe it or not, innocence has a place in learning to lead. It is a childish hope to want everyone on board and always happy, but it is a childlike quality to maintain faith in other people and continue to encourage and empower those who are working with you. And, eventually, the tension of what you want in your work team or department and the reality of the “now,” brings feelings of discouragement. It’s a normal experience in the evolution of a leader, and it can be a portal to renewal and deeper insight if approached with the open heart of second innocence.
Since second innocence is a choice, you have to ask yourself some questions. Can I live a life of wonder when my spouse isn’t perfect, I’ve been hurt by my friends, and I’ve disappointed myself and others by the choices that I’ve made? The answer is “yes,” according to Izzo, who reminds us that life is not so much about where you are going, but about being where you are. I choose to engage right here, right now. How about you?