When you were 4

You were probably a great person when you were 4 years old. I mean I am not the arbiter of greatness. And I don’t really know you. And perhaps that is the point.

Perhaps the point is that I believe most everyone — everyone! — was great when they were 4 years old. They were alive. Free from infection.

And then, well then all the badness you see in people today…all the things we deem in evil…those were not pre-baked into their instructions. When they were 4, those thoughts and points of badness were not installed.

Those came later. Those came after years of conditioning. From participation in social systems at every layer of abstraction. From their parents telling them what to do and not to do. From their teachers. Their friends. Their foes.

That’s where the badness comes from. This is not an apologist’s letter – people should still be responsible for their actions.

But recognizing, as I have been on this journey of sorts, that systems overpower individuals, especially over long periods of time, has brought some clarity to me as I seek to make improvements (or at least hope to make improvements).

You know I am right because you were 4 once. You probably had not a care in the world. Certainly not about instagram likes. Or getting into the cool party. Or making that person around you jealous.


Your job — be alive. That was what you cared about.

You told people what you really thought. You were you.

And you maintained being you, until someone, some group of people, adults, told you to stop being you.

This essay makes me sad to write. Not because it’s not true. But rather because I find it to be so true. I believe it. I believe in every 4 year old. They represent the future. The opportunity of the future.

Are we going to let social systems infect them? Or are we going to build something better? To enable them?