Babies learn to walk and talk remarkably quickly. They are born with this potential. However, they also need to hear people talking around them. They are curious about everything. Eric Fromm wrote one of the best books about how human beings work. He noticed that children up to the age of six are so active and productive that they create their own stimuli provided that those who look after them pay attention to all the things they enjoy doing and let them get on with it, providing they are not interfering with other people’s fun.
Fromm noticed that once they go to school where teachers tell them what to do, their spontaneity diminishes: they become more docile and passive. Of course this is inevitable. Children learn to adapt to the world outside home and to be taught to read and write. When we think about it we understand what a huge change children have to face. It can be a very traumatic experience. The Swiss psychoanalyst, Alice Miller, coined the phrase ‘poisonous pedagogy’. She meant that throughout the ages children have suffered greatly because they have had to be dependent on grown-ups for their early years. It has always been so easy for them to be exploited to suit the needs of their family relations and other adults who have some power over them.
Freude recognised that psychological damage suffered by children has a very profound effect throughout their lives. Sometimes the damage can be repaired and sometimes not. There are good reasons for this and the major one is that children want to love their parents and anyone who makes them happy. Such people are gods to children. Hence they tend to believe everything they are told. This is one of the major mistakes that make our lives so difficult. This is the source of an eternal search by many different people of all kinds to discover the meaning of life: what is true and what is not true. We all have to work that out for ourselves.
Since the rest of the animal kingdom who cannot speak with words they rely entirely on their instincts and emotions. All parents, apart from our species, have only to feed their offsprings and show them how to look for food as soon as they can walk or fly. Once they are independent they have no further need of their parents. Life is simple for them unless great changes occur in their environments, most due to the intervention of mankind.
‘Cognito ergo sum’ said the philosopher Descartes in the 17th century: I think therefore I am. As soon as we learn to speak we become aware of many things that other animals cannot know: such factors as working out what we do not understand through thinking in words. Very few of us remember anything about their early life, except through vague pictures and feelings. There comes a moment when we suddenly realise ‘This is me! I am different from everyone else. I am small now, but every year I have a birthday and grow bigger!’ I become aware of time and know I have been born and will one day die!’
The power of words is very great. I shall go on to discuss how words are used to influence other people.