Saturday, December 15, 2007

Original Sin

From time to time this concept comes to my attention again and I never fail to be alarmed by its pervasiveness and the extent to which our society is structured around it.

Original sin. In a nutshell, we were all born evil - or so the thinking goes. "No, not evil," a Christian home educator explained to me the other day, "But with the propensity for evil."

Nope. I just don't get it. As a parent I can confidently attest that babies and children are not evil. Not ever. Propensity for evil? That depends on your definition of 'evil', and I'm not just wriggling out of that. I don't really believe evil exists in its traditional devil-inspired form.

I think it's all about power.

Evil comes from the wish or need to have power over other people, in my opinion. This is usually born out of fear of what might happen if this power over other people wasn't secured.

The opposite of evil also comes about from a position of strength, but this is an integral, self-supporting strength, not the inferior strength that comes from exercising power over others.

Children love to get attention from their parents and this is how they're often perceived to be naughty, or evil. Our baby (11 months old) knows that she's not allowed to play with the wires behind the computer, so she goes there deliberately whenever she wants us to say: "No no no!" pick her up and generally make a fuss of her to distract her. She does this when she's bored, when we're all busy with other things. When she needs some attention. I call it intelligence, not badness. She's found, through trial and error, an effective way of making sure we provide for her needs. It would perhaps be equally intelligent on our part to somehow block the wires off so she can't get to them and no doubt we'll get around to that eventually, but then she'll have to find some other way of diverting our energy onto her when she needs it.

She gets plenty of spontaneous energy, attention and affection from us anyway, which helps. We're happy people and we love her very much, so why wouldn't we play with her, sing to her and lavish her with hugs?

It's interesting that when a weaker party attempts to exert power in a situation, this is described in negative terms but when the stronger party attempts to use its power, this is described as benign. The older, bigger, more powerful party "knows best" and should be allowed to be in charge. This is equally applicable for parents as it is for school teachers, churchmen, policemen and politicians. Anyone in a position of having power over other people. If their position is established and verified by society, their exertion of power over others is supposedly a good thing.

So we use terms like 'good' and 'evil' to maintain the pecking order. Children, at the bottom of this, are seen as being in need of 'correction' by adults. And yet so often it's the correcting that causes the problems, not the children themselves. Our baby only goes for the computer wires because we make such a big fuss of saying no when she does. If we just ignored the fact she was in danger - which I'm not quite brave (or foolhardy) enough to do - she'd probably stop bothering with the wires altogether.

Most cases of parental enmity leading to childhood 'naughtiness' that I see actually emanate from outside pressures. You have to do your homework, get clean, go to bed early, because of school. You have to be respectful and obedient to give the best impression to onlookers. This is how I was raised. If it hadn't been for the school, the church, the neighbours and other judgmental institutions, my parents wouldn't have perceived themselves as being under pressure to make sure we complied with society's expectations and our childhood might have been very different. Might have been, but probably wouldn't because our parents fully subscribed to the view that we needed saving from our inherently evil natures. I don't suppose they ever stopped to question whether that was actually true.

But it's not in a child's interests to make an enemy of its parents and it's not in a parent's interests to make an enemy of its child. Both sides end up losing and the whole family is weakened by such positions. Hmmm. Now then. In whose interests is it for that to happen?


Blogger Elaine said...

Ooo that is very thought provoking imply to the child that the parent is failing them by constantly intruding into the childs life

12:50 am, December 16, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Yes and even the idea that a parent can 'fail' a child is an invented, inflated, social engineering term, isn't it? When we were kids a parent had to lock a child in a cupboard forever in order to 'fail'. Nowadays you can be seen as somehow 'failing' if you allow television, chocolate or plastic toys.

7:18 am, December 16, 2007  
Blogger Smirking Cat said...

I have thought a lot about this myself, having worked with kids in various settings, and long being convinced that children are not "evil" and simply seem at a purer level than adults are. What gets a hold of a human being to change that? Is there a way to prevent or minimize that?

7:44 pm, December 18, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Hi Cat, yes I have a theory about what changes it. I think it happens very early, when a young child's adults or carers expect it to be 'naughty' or think their job is to constantly correct it. So the child - often as young as a crawling baby - is often told "No!" "Don't touch!" "Be quiet!"

At this age the foundation stones of the new person's personality are being laid - the very basic neural pathways on which its whole mental structure will later be built and it's learning that to interact with the world means to be in trouble.

Prevention is easy - a better prepared (safer) environment and more friendly, loving, trusting adults who try to see things from the child's point of view and to be on the child's side instead of in opposition. Then the child learns that to interact with the world means something good and safe and happy.

I haven't been a perfect parent - I have my faults and occasionally a short fuse like most other people but I have tried to apply this theory as best I could and my children haven't been in need of constant correction. The teens are all very decent people, I think - just as they were born! It wasn't difficult to prevent them from becoming 'bad' really.

11:16 pm, December 18, 2007  
Blogger Mrs Darcy said...

Oh my goodness, is G really 11 months old!!!! Where did that time go???????

12:35 am, December 19, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

LOL, I know! It's a complete shock to me and I see her every day!

8:34 am, December 19, 2007  
Blogger shukr said...

we certainly give them the labels and ideas...

1:05 pm, January 18, 2008  

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