Innocence is Overrated

This special guest blog post is by Mary Ann Johnson,  a participant in Elephant Rock's Summer Solstice Retreat last June. This essay was selected for inclusion in one of National Public Radio's forthcoming regional This I Believe collections. For more about Mary Ann, see her bio at the end of this lovely piece.


Innocence is Overrated


By Mary Ann Johnson

On one of those special days when my oldest daughter was about 18, we had a heart to heart conversation. She told me, “You said something once which really made sense.”

I was surprised I had ever said anything worth remembering. Hey, I actually said something she remembered! I wondered which of my words had stuck with her. I was expecting something profound, something I had tossed out in a moment of unconscious genius.

“You said, ‘Innocence is overrated.’”

“Oh,” I said slowly. Out of all the advice, the hints, the suggestions I had given her over the years, she picked this one to emulate. Oh my God, what would my mother have thought? The world I grew up in revered innocence. I was sure my mother was turning in her grave at that very moment.

Innocence is overrated. I vaguely remembered saying this to her but couldn’t remember why. I think it was one of those flippant remarks I made one day out of frustration when talking about one of her friend’s conservative family. Innocence is overrated. 

Well, innocence is overrated. After all, what is innocence but a lack of knowledge? Babies arrive in this world in innocence and we try our best to keep them innocent as long as possible; but at what price to them? As a child grows we protect them, but at some point this becomes detrimental to their development. How can we expect them to learn how to deal with the real world if they are kept from it? Perhaps I feel this way because I was raised in that mode. I remember the struggles I had when confronted with new situations for which I was not prepared.

June 1930-Day trippers give the bumps to the birthday girl at Brighton seaside resort in East Sussex-Fox Photos-Getty Images.jpg

One can never anticipate every aspect of what the world will reveal to your children. When my youngest daughter was about ten she typed girls dot com on our computer thinking she would find a website with jewelry, make-up, and other things for girls. However, when she hit enter, well, you can imagine what she saw. When I discovered this I was not angry, nor did I put parental controls on the computer. We talked about what she had seen, why some people go to these sites, and how to use search engines. Evidently I laughed, though I don’t remember it that way. She says I did.

But the point is that I helped her deal with the situation rather than make her feel afraid of it. I believe that can work whether discussing politics, controversial art, movies, discrimination, or any number of other things.

I don’t propose that we force children to lose their innocence. But an innocent young adult is naïve, and naïveté does not help a person think clearly or solve problems.

So I do believe innocence is overrated. I believe in curiosity. I believe in answering questions. I believe in respecting children and their rights to grow into thoughtful, worldly adults who can make their own decisions based on fact and not fear.


After working as a nurse and wound-care specialist for over thirty years, Mary Ann Johnson (left) has shed that role to become a full-time grandmother, traveler, and lover of life.  She recently moved from Kentucky to Fairfax, Virginia, to live with her daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters.



Upcoming retreats: You can still join us this October (mother-daughter retreat) or November (mystery of yin women's retreat) to experience the rejuvenating and healing power of writing, art, and yoga on Lake Superior's North Shore.