“Willingness to become as a little child”

In honor of a special screening of “MASH,” celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Robert Altman comedy that used the Korean War as a vehicle to satirize the Vietnam War, Elliott Gould (who played Trapper John McIntyre), spoke with Dave Itzkoff of The New York Times. In the interview, Mr. Gould responded to questions about which of his movie roles led to his being a celebrity:

One of the things that is it at the root of our problems as a species is the ego. With the ego, then there’s fear.

Q. So part of those roles is letting go of your ego?
A.Absolutely, that’s what life is about. I had come across a paperweight that had a quotation in it, that the greatest artist in the world is an uninhibited child at play. I subscribe to that, and then I mentioned it to a late, wonderful friend, Herb Gardner, who wrote “A Thousand Clowns,” and his wife, and they said to me, “And Picasso.” And I said: “You keep Picasso and I’ll keep the child. Because as far as I’m concerned, without the spirit of the child, I’m not interested.” To save the day, I discovered that the quotation was made by Pablo Picasso.

This reminded me of an exchange between Jesus and his disciples (recorded in the New Testament):

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, was known to love the Bible and turn to it constantly for inspiration and healing. In a paragraph in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, with the heading, “Childlike receptivity,” she wrote:

The effects of Christian Science are not so much seen as felt. It is the “still, small voice” of Truth uttering itself. We are either turning away from this utterance, or we are listening to it and going up higher. Willingness to become as a little child and to leave the old for the new, renders thought receptive of the advanced idea. Gladness to leave the false landmarks and joy to see them disappear, — this disposition helps to precipitate the ultimate harmony. The purification of sense and self is a proof of progress. “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”

I love the way all these quotes point to the importance of humility — letting go of human ego — as a stepping stone to greatness. I often ponder the conclusion of this paragraph — referring to one of the Beatitudes. It seems to recognize the purity of heart that is so natural to children and which we, as adults, struggle to recapture.

It may seem incongruous — even irreverent — to quote Elliott Gould, Pablo Picasso, Jesus Christ, and Mary Baker Eddy in one fell swoop. But to me, it points to the universality of this concept. Religious or not, perhaps there’s something to this idea of replacing ego with humility.

Is it possible that one becomes the greatest by becoming the most childlike — humble, innocent, and pure of heart, eager to surrender pride and ego? Might this indeed lead to a greater sense of peace and a higher definition of progress and prosperity?

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