Dr Samuel Johnson, the world's best conversationalist and first lexicographer thought the past mattered a great deal. He believed it hid the kernels of what we are. What we've become. Long after he'd gained fame and fortune in London, he returned to his adopted town of Lichfield, in the Midlands of England. He then spent hours and hours each day thinking about his childhood, recollecting individual events, going even so far as to restage childhood pranks and childish games, in the hope that he'd gain a glimmer of the events that helped make him what he was.
Peculiar as you may find it that a hugely successful man would embark on such activity as a form of self analysis, it’s important to remember that it’s reflective of a couple of things: First, William Blake’s magical Auguries of Innocence whose immortal line: “To see a World in a Grain of Sand” invite us to not just exercise our imagination but to also understand that fundamentally everything is connected. Second, experimental archaeology where the past is reverse engineered in order to better understand its boundaries.
Both of these approaches have something in common: their belief that nothing happens in a vacuum. The very small and the very large are linked by function and form to such an extent that one can be imagined from the other and function and form are determined by the boundaries created by the environment something takes place in.
That this seems to work even when applied to something as complex and constantly evolving as people is evidenced by the Jesuit motto of “give me the child of seven and I will show you the man”. Memories of experience apparently influence behavior which is why it’s important to understand how behavior can be used to influence the way we manage memory, experience and knowledge.
Scientifically, our childhood, does affect who we become as adults. It shapes our social skills and it affects some of our outlook in life. But we’re not marble to be carved into by our parents and those whom we encounter when we are helpless and small. We are fully-functioning, evolving, thinking, beings capable of rational thought as well as emotions. We can rewire our own brains, we can learn to be more focused and we can learn to be more social and productive.
Inherent in this argument is the still not quite decided “Nature vs Nurture” debate that recently has had some fresh data to work with. Do we become who we are or (as some suggest) we are what we become. Meghan Dhaum’s thoughts on this are both provoking and insightful.
Like most forms of learned behavior our childhood cannot be overcome until we make the effort required to re-evaluate our purpose, reaffirm our worth and rewire our brain to behave differently.
As children we are subject to the environment. We are helpless inside our skin. For the first ten years of our life we are both grains of sand and tools being fashioned to work adaptively within the environment we grow up in. As adults we have the responsibility of who we become, how we think, what we value and what we do about it all. But that responsibility doesn’t just happen. It requires active commitment and the willingness to be an adult, to be responsible, to be, truly who we want to be. Not who others and circumstances have made us.
I know you know that I know that I do not control you. I only remind you, out of a sense of duty, to make sure you have plenty of coffee and lots of sugary treats. Donuts, croissants, cookies and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday,