There was once a teacher who gave her class a picture of a bear to color.
Most of the students colored their bears in normal bear colors–brown or black. But one little boy decided that his bear would look best if it had green feet. Next, he colored his bear’s arms yellow. After that he decided that no other color but blue would look good on the bear’s nose. He continued coloring his bear until it was every color of the rainbow. He was very proud of his colorful bear. He was happy none of the other kids had thought to color their bears like his.
The boy with the colorful bear flew to his teacher’s desk, eager to show her the bear he’d worked so hard on. When the teacher saw his picture she furrowed her brow.
“Bears are brown,” she told the boy with the colorful bear. “Bears are not green. Bears are not yellow. Not red, not blue, not purple, and not orange. Bears are brown.”
My first impulse is to condemn this teacher. Who does that awful woman think she is squashing that child’s creativity?! But stepping back from the situation, I make a numbing realization. My optimistic tendencies aside, I think about the world in a very realistic manner. I, too, am a “brown bear” thinker.
I used to be a “colorful bear” thinker, as are most children. When I was six or seven my brother and I made a snow fort with my mom’s help. I had never seen a violent polar bear or an angry tribe of Eskimos near my home, but after building our snow fort, polar bears and Eskimos seemed like a real threat. Thus, my brother and I crouched in our fort, occasionally throwing golf-ball-sized wads of snow over the fort walls.
After one of my dad’s employees went to Disneyland and brought my brother and me back little souvenirs, our bedroom was Disneyland. I fished a handmade ticket out of my little Minnie Mouse purse, handed it to my brother, and then strapped myself into our make-shift bunk-bed roller coaster. I have yet to ride a roller coaster that made me as happy as that pretend one.
As I grew older this colorful bear thinking gradually faded into brown bear thinking. Although I had always known that polar bears and Eskimos didn’t live in Idaho, I eventually stopped believing they could. My brown bear thinking told me these things weren’t possible. My brown bear thinking does not allow me to see my bed as a roller coaster anymore, only as a place to sleep. I think this change is something that happens to almost everybody. Brown bear thinking is just a normal part of being an adult. In fact, brown bear thinking is an important part of a healthy and sane mind. It is important to see the world as it really is in order to make good decisions.
Although adults should use brown bear thinking a majority of the time, it is of utmost importance that our brown bear thinking does not completely eliminate our colorful bear thinking, for we need colorful bear thinking as well. However, we need colorful bear thinking for a different reason that we need brown bear thinking. Brown bear thinking grants us clarity; colorful bear thinking grants us hope. Colorful bear thinking isn’t simply about creativity. Colorful bear thinking is the ability to see the world not as it is, but as it could be. Colorful bear thinking gives us faith that things have the potential to change into something better. It is colorful bear thinking that gives us the strength to hope for a better future when the world all around us looks bleak.
The boy with the colorful bear knew his teacher was right; real bears are brown. You and I know that as well. However, perhaps in the far reaches of the Amazon Jungle there lives a bear with green feet, yellow arms, and a blue nose. Just because you haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it can’t exist.
Know that bears are brown–know that life can be hard and ugly. But don’t be afraid to color your bear every color of the rainbow. Don’t be afraid to hope for those things that your brown bear thinking tells you can’t exist. Hope for a happier tomorrow. You might be surprised how often your colorful bear thinking is right.