Thursday, December 09, 2021

"You Will Be Unique In The World For Me. I Will Be Unique In The World For You"

This is a fascinating experiment that you can try at home. Ask someone to sit across from you and say words, any words, with the only condition being that they leave time, say three seconds, between each word for you to write them down. If after every plural noun you say "good" or "right," or even if you just smile or repeat the word pleasantly, before long the frequency of plural nouns will increase significantly as they go on.

I'm not sure if this experiment works exactly this way with children because they are still in the midst of learning language, but it sure does with adults. 

This is fascinating to me in a couple ways. First of all, it's an example of unconscious learning or what we more often label as training. That said, I've read that if the subject of the experiment is made aware in advance of the parameters it doesn't work nearly as well. In other words, the conscious mind tends to resist the manipulation, while the unconscious mind is helpless before it. This phenomenon is, of course, well-known to marketers and propagandists who craft their messages to evade conscious thought and appeal directly to our unconscious brain.

More interesting to me, however, is that we are all, every day, in our conversations, not only unconsciously training other people, but being unconsciously trained by them in return. This day-to-day tango is the dance of connection that we call relationship. This might explain why we so often take an instant and "irrational" like or dislike to a person, why we might trust or distrust them with no evidence. This dance of training and being trained is how we get to "know" someone. And it works because much of this process of creating relationship, this mutual training, takes place on an unconscious level.

When one side begins to consciously manipulate the other, the relationship changes. We might go along merrily for awhile, but the moment we recognize that we are being manipulated, we begin to resist. And more often than not we grow to despise the manipulator.

This happens quite often in relationships between children and adults. Young children, driven by the drive to connect with us, trust us to dance unconsciously with them, but too often, we adults seek to manipulate them, "for their own good," of course. We have behaviors and lessons we want them to learn so we take the role of marketers and propagandists, consciously training them without their knowledge or consent. As they get older, however, they begin to see through our tricks and naturally start to resist, not because our agenda on their behalf is wrong, but because we have an agenda at all. Here they were believing that they were in a dance of connection and relationship only to find it was one of manipulation.

No wonder children consistently, around the world, become less and less fond of school, their teachers, and even their parents as they grow older. This is exactly how everyone feels, no matter what our age, when we discover that we've been consciously manipulated. I will never forget a conversation I had several years ago with a sister and brother I had taught in preschool who were now in seventh and fifth grades. The anger these bright children expressed to me about the "stupidity" of what they were being taught in school, of the "uselessness" of it, was directed at not just their teachers, but the entire "system." I recall feeling similarly at that age. And they are right. It is a betrayal.

In his book The Little Prince, Antoine de Sait-Exupéry writes, "You are only a little boy for me just like a hundred thousand little boys. And I don't need you. And you don't need me either. I am only a fox like a hundred thousand foxes. But if you tame me, we will need each other. You will be unique in the world for me. I will be unique in the world for you."

It's not enough that we cause the children in our lives to need us. Unless we need them as well, we are mere marketers and propagandists, manipulating young minds. We may continue to fool them for a long time, but eventually they will see that they have been fooled, that we don't need them. And it will break their hearts to learn that they are only "a fox like a hundred thousand foxes," subject to the manipulation of our agendas. 

It is wrong when we tame the children in our lives without also allowing them to equally tame us. That is the dance of connection and relationship into which they have, trustingly, entered into. To be unique in the world for one another is what we all most need from life. In many ways it is the only thing. When we forget that, we betray what it means to be human.


If you liked reading this post, you might also enjoy one of my books. To find out more, Click here! 
"Few people are better qualified to support people working in the field of early childhood education than Teacher Tom. This is a book you will want to keep close to your soul." ~Daniel Hodgins, author of Boys: Changing the Classroom, Not the Child, and Get Over It! Relearning Guidance Practices

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