Children – Empathy or Strategy
Savvy Sunday Salutations: Here we are at the end of week ones’ newly structured schedule (I hope you are enjoying the change and its developments); I wanted to start of Savvy Sunday Salutations with a good friend of mine, he goes by the alias Patrick Tulley (he’s a little shy). I have known Patrick for a number of years (since University) and although we do not always see eye to eye on many of the topics we discuss; we still manage to have an amicable debated discussion that can last for hours; so it was only a matter of time for me to come up with the only solution I thought was a fitting tribute: to invite Patrick along so we can continue our discussions here.
Before we continue, I would like you to have a quick peek at this Disclaimer; whilst we (guest bloggers and I) do not set about to intentionally upset visitors to the site; I understand some of the topics discussed/raised may touch nerves. Please note I will do my utmost to screen these posts before I post them however; I do believe in freedom of speech and I would hate to limit someone because they think differently to me or have different values from mine. Therefore, I urge you to have some understanding and an open mind before jumping in and causing a scene without it being constructive. Like I said, Patrick and I do have difference of opinions and on most cases we agree to disagree but at the same time we also respect the others’ thoughts and views -after all we do live in a civilized world; with this in mind I hope we will have more cultivated and engaging discussions. One last note to all: Here on yikici I have aimed to keep posts and discussions clean; I am not a fan of words that are disrespectful and disparaging therefore, I will not condone its’ use here on yikici; I do hope you share my views on this –if not, at least can respect them.
(As always there is a pdf document at the bottom of the post for those who may find this a difficult read.)
PATRICK TULLEY: PHILOSOPHER, AMATEUR WRITER
My name is Patrick Tulley. I am primarily a philosopher and an amateur writer but also have been a painter and sculptor in the past. My background has been quite varied, as I have lived abroad on and off during my 20’s, been in a number of different professions (mainly managerial) and owned and ran two businesses. More recently, I have been working as a private consultant within the public sector.
Since philosophy is my preferred interest; it is always something I rigorously apply to all my thinking and writing. Whilst I am knowledgeable about abstract philosophy, I am not particularly interested in taking that route. Philosophy is about the search for truth, it was always meant to be understandable by everyday people -this does not mean dumbing down the ideas of course. It just means I do not allow myself to get sidetracked by too many inconsequential arguments, often referred to as lifeboat scenarios. I tend towards the more Aristotelian and Socratic methods of philosophy, but I also have interests in Hume, Nietzsche and Rand. Philosophy has been a wonderful and fulfilling part of my life; it’s often been a very misunderstood subject -which I hope to discuss in future posts. I also enjoy reviewing art, literature, music and passing comments on culture, news and personal experiences that I have found both interesting and enlightening. I do not have a particular interest in politics –however; I may discuss my reasons with you sporadically throughout this blog. Overall, this is hoped to be a journal about a philosophical life. I hope you will enjoy my outlook on things and look forward to hearing your comments and thoughts along the way. I would also like to thank Ozlem for giving me this opportunity to have a voice on her blog.
Children – Empathy or Strategy
I was taking my usual walk to work via a shortcut I’ve just recently discovered and I was following two young mothers pushing prams. There was also a young boy probably no older than say 3, perhaps 4 years old straggling some 6 – 10ft behind them. As I was following them I happened to eavesdrop on the conversation which these two ladies were having. They were discussing motherhood in general with a certain disingenuous tone. However, this little boy was struggling to keep up as these two ladies marched on at an adult pace. My sympathy was raised for this boy’s poor little legs which had probably only learnt to walk in the past 18 months to 2 years. I thought how amazing that this young lad had managed a task we all take for granted now. The ability to stand on ones two legs and walk require enormous reserves of energy and thought. Balance does not come naturally to our species, as we must learn how to balance firstly. What I found profoundly interesting of this little boy, was that he wasn’t complaining about having to keep up, indeed it would seem that his distance reflected his need to be closer to his mother as he gritted his small teeth to try and keep up to speed. It was at this moment that his Mother’s friend asked her if she would consider having any more children. To which she stopped walking, turned around to face her little son and said, ‘I take one look at him and say, never, never again’. The little boy stops for a moment and looks up at his mother for a momentary glance into her eyes and then runs headlong towards her and wraps himself around his Mother’s leg. One could see his Mother visibly warm towards this gesture as she reaches down to rub his back. But rather than lose face with her friend over what she had said earlier, she makes some comment about not having enough time to raise more children.
Now this situation would seem on the surface to have no more meaning than a light conversation juxtaposed by a small child’s interaction with their parent. However, I was struck by a powerful epiphany during this interplay which is what led me to write my thoughts in the first place. I should preface this experience by first explaining that unless you have empathy for the child you knew best, yourself of course, you are most unlikely to understand the very palpable reaction that I experienced during this observation. This young boy knew his place in the world or rather I should say he knew best the strategy for his own survival. He knew it would be pointless to complain to his Mother that she was walking too fast and that he was struggling to keep up. Of course, I cannot know exactly why it would be pointless for him to complain. But it was clear from his determination to keep up in such an unflinching manner, that his experience of this situation had been one in which he should just gather all of his energies and resources into just ‘keeping up’. Whether it was punishment or derision that he received, who knows. But the concentration written on his little face said it all – Keep up!! It didn’t require his mother to tell him to keep up, as she was seemingly unaware of his plight at this time, as she and her friend marched on. It was then that as I slowly caught up with this boy that his Mother turned around and passed her little judgement upon him.
‘I take one look at him and say, never, never again’
I was struck by a powerful empathy for that little boy, but was also frozen by my own paralysis to intervene. But watching him glance into his Mother’s eyes for just a split second, said it all. In that moment he appeared to be thinking and passing through his memories of past experiences. He understood his Mother had a deep resentment for something, that she was sad and unhappy with her lot. He may not have known why of course, but he knew how it affected his short life thus far. He knew, albeit maybe not in its entirety that he needed to soothe his Mother’s anguish somehow, if only as a means to preserving his own existence. So it was; that a passionate hugging of her leg could melt her otherwise stone cold affection for him. That it was he that instigated the affection and not his Mother meant this little boy was completely aware of his predicament. I was saddened and deeply amazed at the powerful knowledge this little boy had. Amazed by his ability to strategize so effortlessly at such a tender age, but deeply saddened by the immense loss of his own feelings and desires as he navigates his life around these tormented adults.
It should be noted that this whole experience happened for me within less than 2 minutes from start to finish. Time seemed to slow down for me as a means to digesting this moment, not just for this little lad, but for myself as well. Of course, most adults would suggest that this was the child showing empathy for their parent. That this was a sweet moment between Mother and son. But I ask you, what you would say of a friend or relative, as an adult. If they were to face you and say to their friend that your company wasn’t welcome? That in fact your very existence meant they could never acquaint themselves with another? You would most likely be deeply hurt, perhaps enraged even. How dare they speak so ill of me! Who do they think they are?! I would imagine eventually you would cease being around that person and rightly so in my opinion. Imagine how horrible his Mother’s words were to that little boy. If only understood from body language and tone alone, her petulance was acutely clear. But in his tiny presence he was most unlikely to change compared to that of our own adult choices. He is a prisoner of this abuse and he must find a way to cope and exist in a world that shows him scant regard. Therefore he hugs his Mother’s leg, not out of love, but from a deep need to survive.
Copyright © Patrick Tulley 2011 – All Rights Reserved.
Thoughts and comments are encouraged as always.
Pdf document: Children – Empathy or Strategy