“Give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.” The phrase, frequently misattributed to Ignatius of Loyola who founded the order of the Jesuits, was actually first uttered by Aristotle who believed in the power of education and environment to shape character and reason.
There are several complex ideas enshrined and perhaps explored in Aristotle’s immortal line that are worth unpacking here. One is that children are, somehow innocent; a tabula rasa, upon which we can project our own wishes, knowledge, values and wisdom in an attempt to shape the future and achieve the world we want to see.
Aristotle was a strong proponent of nurture, versus nature. A line of thought that is further strengthened by what we know from learning that occurs while we are still in the womb.
Another is that the brain and the mind, while not fixed, can be shaped through learning at a time when they are both at their most receptive. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island, for instance, explores that theme exactly and projects it into a context that suggests that children are inherently good and just a little guidance is sufficient to create a just society.
William Golding took an opposing view in his Lord of the Flies suggesting that we need a structure around us to help us maintain the values we should uphold and when that structure fails and falls our complex belief system fails and falls with it.
Yet a third has to do with learning, or rather the way we learn and how it is underpinned by memory. There is an inherent complexity in Aristotle’s question. It begs us to consider whether we are truly defined by our past, whether that past traps us and whether we can ever hope to set ourselves free from it.
There is a deeper subtext too that points to the way words (and knowledge) affect us. How we learn what to expect from the world, and how true growth is a delicate balancing act between forgetting and remembering.
Nothing is then simple. Complexity, however, can overwhelm us. Learning to deal with all of that, understanding how we came to be who we are, requires us to answer the question of what do we really want, and why. Self-reflection is a skill. So is learning (and unlearning).
The world is a construct. So is society and, incredibly enough, the commonly understood concept of time itself. Learning then is a mind trick of sorts; which means there are techniques we can use to make us better learners.
Better news still, it means that we hold the means to change the way we operate. We do need to learn who we are first. That’s just part of growing up.
Tall order? What do you think?
So, coffee then. Something sweet. I suggest donuts and cookies, croissants and chocolate cake. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.