In grad school I met a scholar who told me that he could predict a person's academic and social success by their kindergarten interview. "It only takes a few minutes. We ask the five-year-old questions, evaluate their problem-solving skills and rank them. We can tell how well they'll do in life by how well they do on our test."
We were having a conversation before a class so it's not like I had a lot of time to probe, but I did manage to ask a few questions.
"So how do you know what happens to them?"
"We follow them through school. We interview them again in high school."
"Only a few kids, right? Maybe it's just the children you're interviewing?"
"It's a huge, multi-year study."
"And there are no surprises? No one does better or worse than expected?"
He folded his arms. "Sorry. It's a pretty good indicator."
I didn't pay much attention in class that day. Instead, I spent my time trying to get my head around what this study meant. Are we destined to be that person we were at the age of five for the rest of our lives?
That thought depresses me. I hate thinking that who we are is predetermined by some genetic roll of the dice or some early environmental factors that we have absolutely no control over. If that study is true, then it doesn't give much hope in our ability to change and shape our own lives. And what does it say about the literature we read and about the books we write?
Is that why we're drawn to stories? Because book characters make discoveries about themselves and the world around them and have the ability to grow and change while we are destined to be the person we always were? If that's the case, then it redefines the word "fiction" in a whole new way.
The reason I've been thinking about this stuff is because thanks to Facebook, I've been reconnecting with old friends. I'm happy to say they prove that study wrong. Sure, there are things about them that remind me of the teenagers (or children) they once were. And with some, I bet if we met again in person, we'd have that wonderful feeling of thinking that no time passed at all. Have you ever had met an old friend and picked up the conversation exactly where you left off all those years ago?
But I can see changes too. So forget the stupid studies. Of course, people grow and change in surprising ways.
And yet, it has me thinking. How much of that five-year-old is left inside us? And how much have we left behind?