How to Spoil a Child

And having made them ill children, we foolishly expect they should be good men
John Locke

I ought to name this essay How to Spoil a Man. Apropos, since a child is naturally spoiled by virtue of its very nature and needs. Only truly callous or miserable parents respond with harsh treatment if a child behaves childishly, being selfish, distracted, and lacking any formidable powers of thought beyond the physical pleasures of food, drink, play, and sleep. However, a spoiled man is a disgusting man indeed, even to his loving parents, who failed to check his behaviour while he was a child because they erroneously assumed he would magically transform into a decent man once he grows up.

When a baby is born, it cares for nothing but to breathe, feed, clothed, embraced by its mother, and it indicates – no, demands – that its needs be met by the only way it knows how: By crying out loud. From the moment of its birth, it cares for nothing and no one because it can do nothing. Its body is soft and vulnerable, its brain is more or less a blank slate, and its desires are primitive and urgent. From this moment, however, on a mostly subconscious level, it begins to learn about the world and its place in it, what it is capable of, the things it can acquire, the people it can influence, and behaviours it should learn, and acts it can get away with. Within a year or two, the child would have learned much about its surroundings, and learned to navigate and interact with it. It would have learned much about people as well, even capable of recognising its mother, father, siblings, friends and strangers, even as far as somehow knowing, with amazing accuracy, those who are pleasant, hostile, negligent, or spiteful towards it. It gradually picks up the dominant languages spoken by the people around it, and learns to mimic familiar words and crying in order to convey its feelings.

By age six, the child has a sizeable collection of opinions about the world and people in general. It would be hard to say whether these subconscious notions are productive or dysfunctional until the child faces individuals who are yet to form their own various opinions and attitudes about him or her. Ready or not, this child’s psyche will clash with those of others around.

Old Men in Little Bodies

Many people look upon children as completely incapable of any learning. Of course, a two-year-old child may yet develop an interest and aptitude for mathematics, music, or poetry, or perhaps in the next three to ten years. Nevertheless, the child is quick to learn other things that affects it in the most significant ways, physically and psychologically. On the one hand, the effort its parents spend on nurturing and protecting it has a great impact on the physical wellbeing of the child throughout its life. Breastfeeding, regular medical check-ups, inoculations, proper grooming, and warm clothing contribute to desirable physiological development of the child.

On the other hand, the child’s psychological development at this time is at its most pliable. The child is at an advantage or risk, depending on the kind of social circumstances to which it is exposed. Children are uncanny observers: they see, hear, and remember much of what adults do and say in front of them or just within an earshot of them, even though they often do not understand what goes on or why. When questioned by a curious and possibly threatening adult, they would likely feign ignorance of any knowledge that they suspect the adult might believe is embarrassing or forbidden.

In these situations, children behave more or less like wise old men, who prefer to keep their observations, experiences, opinions, and advice to themselves, and for the most part, remain mentally and emotionally unaffected by the sentiments, idiosyncrasies, and outbursts of other people. Unlike old men, however, children have not yet learned mental and emotional resilience to any degree; have no extensive life experiences to draw on; and no principles and beliefs to uphold. Influenced so easily by what they see and hear, children tend to take adult speech and behaviour to mean acceptable speech and behaviour, especially those that are often demonstrated by the most important people in the child’s life.  Moreover, as old men are frail in body to neither move swiftly as young men nor resist diseases and infections, with each physical accident moving them closer to death, in a similar manner, so a child’s mind can do little to stem the tide of external influences and pressures. Positive experiences reinforce the child’s willingness for expression and experiencing the real world, while each negative experience causes them to doubt themselves, repress feelings, withdraw from people, put up barriers, and indulge in fantasies – the beginnings of insecurities, traumas, and other psychological disorders.

Protect the Children

A child has special needs and requires much attention. The younger the child, the more this is so. It is well within reason that parents would want to protect their young one from every known and unknown adversity until the child is old enough to protect himself. So what does this parental protection entail? From what adversities should a parent shield a child? I am not referring to basic physical concerns of malnutrition or cold or various diseases and infections that kill children like measles or malaria, for I am no expert on nutrition or child health. Rather, there are potent dangers to which many well-meaning parents are blind. It is interesting to realise that when parents think about keeping their children safe, their minds fill to the brim with imagined dangers of physical harm caused by the environment, strangers, and other unscrupulous family members. They fear that their fragile baby may fall off his bed, prick a finger, or fall from running. They detest the idea that the other kids may bully their harmless sweetheart, or that he or she may fall in with the wrong sort. They dread that some godless pervert might abduct, abuse, poison, or molest their precious child.

Generally, these concerns are justified, however unlikely. Parents, especially new parents, initially constantly harbour such terrible fears, but relent after a while. They finally come to terms with the improbability of losing their child to grazed knees or kidnappers, although they still maintain a healthy level of parental vigilance, as they should. However, some parents take their fears too far. They go as far as keeping their children confined to the house or their rooms, sometimes well into their teenage years, refusing to grant them any contact whatsoever with strangers, family members, and the outside world. These days, this form of restriction has taken an even more subtle approach. Parents discourage their children from visiting grandparents, having friends, partaking in sports, and talking to strangers. Regardless of the physical or mental nature of their incarceration, children who are victims of such extreme parental protection develop an overdependence on parents, while they secretly crave the freedom their peers enjoy. What is worse, they become reclusive, socially inept, and incapable of being team players. These problems do not become apparent until they are old enough and are required to interact with strangers, peers, co-workers, superiors, subordinates, and romantic interests. After years of social restriction, these man-children suddenly are required by the very same parents and everyone else to be sociable, assertive, subtle, and charming. Some people, with enough instruction, therapy, or audacity, are be able to live with some semblance of social proficiency. Many, unfortunately, struggle their entire lives to overcome crippling inferiority complex, anxiety disorders, and mental walls they have built over the years to protect themselves from an apparently harsh and hazardous world, which is, ironically, a truth their parents inadvertently revealed to them, but did little to prepare them for, and now cannot protect them any longer. To other adults whose childlike impulses to play with the other kids were not similarly restricted, these unfortunate people may seem like immature, nervous, sycophantic children desperately begging for company and approval, or antisocial snobs who shun everyone and everything.

Therefore, by all means, parents should protect their children from health hazards and unprincipled family members; scrutinise their friends and impose rigid curfews; assign to them personal servants, doctors, teachers, bodyguards, and chauffeurs, if they can afford them all. With any luck, as the children grow, they will come to see these provisions as neither extravagant luxuries nor excessive limitations on their prolific childhood compulsions to be free, but necessary precautions to keep them from harm. However, parents will do well if they never entertain the harmful thought that sheltering their wards completely from the world in which they will have to live the rest of their lives after the parents are dead, will make them safer. Such reasoning does not make any sense.

Protecting a child from social engagement will make him weak and withdrawn. Instead, encourage your children to make friends, play sports, greet strangers, chat with the neighbours, and participate in family conversations. It will not kill them. Many more children have lost their identity, their minds, and their lives from being unable to cope with social inadequacy than from sports accidents. Play is important to children. It is how they learn to socialise, to recognise and practice social hierarchies, and to study others and their own personalities, preferences, and expectations. Deny your child this, and you will rob him or her of decades of proper social conditioning process.

Control the Children

It would seem that my entire argument is to leave children to their own whims. After all, putting constraints on their desire to hop and jump around and run back and forth undermines their very survival in a brutal world. A child’s need to play is primal, one that cannot be stopped. Better to give it free reign than to try to suppress it. Children are impulsive, carefree, and lack the rationality and orderliness that defines adults. Perhaps that is why children find adults so uninteresting, boring, and uptight. We are assaulted daily by concerns of lawfulness, decency, morality, responsibility, tragedy, and the like – notions that children have no idea about. Eventually, children grow up, and if, other than curiosity and enthusiasm, any other childlike attributes linger in them, such as impulsiveness or lack of focus, they will have a very tough life indeed.

A child needs to understand from the very moments that he is capable, that his parents are his sole benefactors and rulers, and he will do well to submit to their authority without question. Parents ought to treat their children as they really are, as lacking any manner of practical knowledge and wisdom to govern themselves and other people. Just as social exposure builds a child’s social competence, so will parental guidance build a child’s character and capacity for reason, restraint, and self-regulation. Just as without social competence, the child becomes a bland, mechanical android or nervous, clumsy social outcast, so without parental control, he will become an abusive, promiscuous, disrespectful, lazy, and obnoxious brat.

Hence, children should not have whatever they desire to eat or drink except what the whole family is having, or if once a while, it pleases the parents to reward their child as such. They must not to go to bed so late at night and wake whenever they please. They must not have every new toy they fancy. They must be taught to use language properly, without obscenity or cursing, and to master basic contextual social skills such as greeting, politely asking for things, permission, or favours, and recognising appropriate situations in which they may express apology or gratitude. They must be encouraged to ask questions and speak their minds, but without grunting, raising their voices, or rudely interrupting others. Parents must assign to them chores as they grow up, become physically stronger, and able to understand and follow instructions. In short, parents should gradually introduce their children to reason, judgement, communication, self-control, work, and responsibility. No doubt, these guidelines seem overly authoritative, yet they do not serve to enslave one’s children and make drones out of them. Instead, they imbue them with strength, conscientiousness, and autonomy. Moreover, their training in morals and decency will enable them, by themselves, to distinguish between other children to befriend and those to avoid.

Some people may have trouble with this line of thought, as it seems to indicate that a little boy be ruled with an iron fist. Yes, he must be ruled as such. Over time, it will be quite evident that the boy is becoming more and more rational in word and deed; only then can his parents slowly release him from their ardent parental supervision, and they grant him other pleasant rewards as befitting a child. On the other hand, if he gets out of line, the parents must remind him of their authority swiftly and mercilessly. Until he is able to weigh the merits of good and bad, and ponder the repercussions of his choices and actions, reward and punishment are vital feedback messages from parent to the child.

Reward and Punishment

Whenever I expressed my opinions on the treatment of children to a few people, their reaction is usually disagreement. It was interesting to observe that those who disagreed strongly were also quite proud and disobedient children themselves, which they would not have been, had their parents been so firm. Often, their argument against mine is that children are weak, physically and psychologically, to be catered to like wild animals and governed like slaves. Well, new-borns are no smarter than animals, and even children who are a few years old, without guidance and supervision from adults, behave like animals, and can never learn to bathe themselves, groom themselves, feed themselves, have the mind to go the bathroom by themselves when nature calls. They will not want to wash their own clothes, clean their own rooms, make their beds, avoid breaking important items, and staying away from hazardous things. Besides, the fact that animals fascinate the majority of children so much does not astonish anyone – why, they have so much in common!

As for advocating for enslaving children, it is only an evil, uncaring parent, they would say, who would subject his own children to such stringent tyrannical treatment. Children are beautiful, precious, harmless, gifts of God who ought to be cuddled all the time. Perhaps a disapproving frown or punitive word every once a while, and even if their offence is so disconcerting, they should be looked upon with love and kindness, and be easily forgiven. Under no circumstances should anyone be so bent on holding children to any lofty ideals such that it frightens them and breaks their little fragile hearts. Only a heartless man would do such a thing, raising a young boy to become an unflinching moralist before he can even spell his own name. Their argument is very persuasive, if only they were right.

I feel the need to iterate once again that to children, everything is new. They have no prior knowledge, opinions, and no reservations about anything, yet. Therefore, anything they are permitted to say and do, whether good or bad, becomes acceptable to them. As they grow up, these freedoms, if you will, become part of them, subconscious. If a child is taught principles, decency, self-control, hard work from a young age, they become part of him. If he disobeys, steals, insults, curses, bullies other children, or acts in any way contrary to the parents’ good instruction, then rebuke and punishment is expedient, for it is the means by which a child learns that deviant behaviour incurs unpleasant consequences. So even as the child grows up and forgets the details of his childhood upbringing, the psychic programing of this upbringing is sealed up in his psyche and directs him in all his affairs. He somehow understands that conscientiousness and discipline are necessary to succeed as an individual and a social being.

Likewise, if a child is cuddled, exempted from chores and responsibilities, and never warned or punished for even the most heinous conducts, then these expectations become part of him, and as he grows up, the sordid repercussions of this nurturing begin to reveal themselves is the child’s words and deeds. He does not remember entirely why he is the way he is, only that his family had cuddled him from birth, deferred to him, and catered to his every need without question, and so must everyone around him cuddle and defer to him, and carry forth what he demands of them. He had no responsibilities as a child, and so he will not assume any. He was master of his parents and siblings, and so anyone who has the misfortune of associating with him must necessarily kowtow to him. He never saw a stern face, heard a harsh word, or received a single spank from anyone while he pouted, raved, and cursed as a child, and so no one must have the right or authority to oppose his deviant behaviour or punish his misdeeds. Why should he not feel entitled to conduct himself in such a manner? While he was a helpless, mindless child, his own parents could not control him. Now a grown man, why would he submit or be good to anyone?

The difference between a good child and a bad child is that the good child obtains reward for subservience and punishment for insolence. The bad child is rewarded for everything, even for insolence (Indeed, to excuse an individual for a misdeed is in itself a form of reward, just as some convicts may receive early pardon for good behaviour, but then even they would have served a portion of their sentences.) One is trained from childhood to be an adult. The other is expected to be an adult when he grows up.

In addition, punishing a child for everything can be just as detrimental to the child’s development. This is abuse, of course. The child cannot know what behaviours will incur a parent’s wrath and punishment, and at the same time, he regularly tries and fails to stimulate any approval and affection from his patron. Many of those who suffered abuse as children are amongst the most cruel and maladjusted people in the world. Thus, just as parents ought to use reward sparingly as the child deserves it, so should they use punishment: painful but sensible. The displeasure of the parents must be tempered by their love for the child and their desire to correct him, but the punishment should communicate the severity of the offence, but should not overwhelm or terrify the child. Furthermore, if possible, they may deal with the child in private, away from other children. Occasionally, one may employ a shaming tactic by chastising a child in public, which is often horribly effective. However, making a custom of penalising a child in front of his peers can negatively affect his self-esteem.

When I was young, my own father had several ways of expressing his displeasure at my behaviour. He would ground me, take away my toys and video games, send me off to bed earlier than usual. Sometimes, he did spank me with his hand, a cane, and as I got older, with a leather belt. At the time, I thought this was cruel – how can a man inflict pain on his own son, a little boy, with such ferocity and resolve? However, he had a tactic he used: before he lifted a finger, he would ask me questions about what I had done. Why did you do it? What were you thinking? What did you gain from it? Do you know why what you did was bad? Do you understand why I have to punish you now? As smart as I was, I could never concoct sound excuses for any of those things for which he punished me. I would relent, and endure the rod like a trooper. I would be angry for a while, no doubt, but I could never revile him. Now, as a grown man, I am sure he loved me, and I am grateful for all that beating.

My childhood was so much unlike those of kids today, increasingly rebellious yet receiving little to no punishment from anyone. More parents today are averse to punishing because they fear their children will grow to hate them. They fear that a little firmness may be construed as unfair and abusive. Thus, children grow mindless and stubborn because parents are weak and fearful. Later on, when they deem it expedient to exercise some parental control over a wayward teenager, it is probably too late. Punishment for aberrant behaviour is a parent’s way of teaching a child that recklessness incurs unnecessary adversity. The earlier your children accept that you can and will keep them in line, the better. Besides, it is better for your children to be strong and prosper, even if they may hate you for your methods. Otherwise, if society reviles and rejects them for their waywardness, they will hate you anyway, for it was your duty to discipline them.

In Closing

One may ask what authority I have to instruct anyone about raising children. I have none. I do not have my own children and I have not adopted any. I do not have a doctorate in child rearing or anything of the sort. All I can boast of is over two decades of observing siblings, stepsiblings, nephews, and cousins, being a part-time librarian, a teacher, and an illustrator for children’s books, and teaching and learning materials. What is more, I was once a child – an illustrious, thrill-seeking child, so my parents say. I think I was rather a calm, as far as I remember. Anyway, I have observed and interacted with more than a hundred children. I have a rather comprehensive knowledge in human psychology. Yet when dealing with children, much of the established psychological patterns of the average adult hardly come to play. Adults have already being shaped and driven by conscious thoughts and pursuits, unconscious desires, years of experiences, and social pressures. The psychology of children is a very delicate matter – they are still figuring out the world and their place in it.

Still, you do not have to take my advice. Just taking a keen interest in observing children around you for a while should inform you a great deal. With any luck, you will come to similar conclusions as I have. Just as well, if parents would commit more time and attention to their children as they do to themselves, perhaps I would not be conceited enough to trouble anyone with such a long essay.

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Bloodlines

Some men by ancestry are only the shadow of a mighty name
Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (Lucan)

Intro

Every animal alive today descended from ancestors. When we talk of an individual’s ancestors, we mean all the individuals, men and women, and most of them dead, who through the ages paired off and mated, bringing forth offspring after offspring, generation after generation, until, finally, by his or her parents, that individual was birthed. The awareness and appreciation of one’s ancestry, like most intellectual and emotional cognitive processes, seems to be an exclusive human trait.

Our past is important to us. Our future, more so. Of course, an individual’s present and future is the product of decisions made in the past and present. However, every once a while, a man becomes interested in not only his own past, but his genealogy as well. To some people, the possibility that their parents, and predecessors for that matter, have some influence on their lives is absurd, even offensive to their individualistic sensibilities. Yet, if that were the case, cultures of royalty and inheritance by lineage would be just as ridiculous, tracing one’s ancestry would be a futile, laughable endeavour, and familial intimacy would lose their sacred meaning. Who you are as an individual may very well be the product of a thousand dead men and women, since personal traits like race, physicality (height, complexion, etc.), intelligence, and even some psychological characteristics are indeed inheritable. It is not strange to make every effort to discover the identity of one’s ancestors. It is just as prudent to revere one’s ancestors, for they certainly thought about their progeny.

The inherent rationality of humans, by virtue of a larger brain, affords us the ability to plan and act contrary to our instincts, or at least have an awareness of them. This rationality, combined with extraordinary imagination, allows a man – no, compels him to look beyond his current surroundings and needs, towards the past to evaluate why he is what he is. He contemplates life in the shoes of another individual, imaginary of course, who has a different father or mother, from a different race, and even perhaps in a different time in the past or future. Could he have been better or worse if he were such an individual? Obviously, many imagine they could have been better men and women, were they not restricted by their current circumstances, and in some cases, they would be right. They forget a crucial point nonetheless: Some of their ancestors had it worse. Much worse.

From Instinct to Innovation

To put the spirit and vigour of one’s ancestors into perspective, it is important to understand and accept how weaker the modern man has become. There is a reason why tenets of morality, peace, love, and decency have gained ground in the last hundred years. After all, in a prosperous global civilisation where an individual’s most pressing aspirations and most potent hinderances are no longer physical or spiritual, but mostly socio-economic in nature, these tenets have become the social and legal standards and religious philosophies intended to keep the masses in line for the benefit of civilisation. Our ancestors had little need for such restrictions. A moral, amiable man can still die from heat, cold, starvation, thirst, strange infections, wild beasts, poisonous plants, and natural disasters. A rival village, even an empire, will attack, plunder, and enslave another, if its leaders are not dangerous and cunning enough, or its warriors are not watchful, skilled, ferocious, and numerous; the religious, peace-loving, sophisticated ideals of its citizens will not matter. This is how people acquired, built, and protected homes and civilisations in the past. Indeed, even current international borders that exist today were carved with the sweat, blood, and money of leaders, soldiers, and civilians alike.

However, these days, the average child does not need to endure gruelling training from childhood to defend his tribe one day. Instead, from early on, society teaches a child to be respectful, friendly, pliable, and empathic to all, to not stir up trouble, not agitate others, politely ignore bullies, and mercifully forgive offenders. Doctrines like this, seemingly benevolent guidelines to keep people safe, only serves to stifle healthy physical aggression, verbal assertiveness, mental power and true grit. They are taught to supress instincts that, when permitted, give rise to stronger, audacious individuals. Rather they are encouraged to adhere to the status quo, to not ask questions, and accept what society offers them. Forced to draw on existing sources and references, school systems inadvertently discourage original, critical thinking: whenever a professor criticises the lack of abundant citations in a student’s work, he is essentially saying to him, ‘You are not permitted to have or write about your own ideas,’ and ‘You are not capable of discovering this on your own. From where did you learn this?’ Children entrenched in a culture of weakness and impotency may survive in the 21st century. Such comical ideals, however, had no place in hostile medieval or feudal societies past, or in the ancient and unforgiving prehistoric world. Perhaps we believe we are in a better, safer world – a world in which we can safely abandon our strength and indulge in orgies without repercussions. We can pay no mind to incompetent leaders and radical dissenters because there is no immediate threat of conflicts and societal degeneration. We can trust education systems that undermine the scientific method, and rational, objective thinking, and shoves misinformation, falsified histories, erroneous statistics, brainwashing ideologies, and politically correct garbage into the minds of unsuspecting students. We can belittle the essence of family and community, and raise our children to be weak imbeciles who jump and roll at the command of their hormones, instead of wilful, practical individuals bent on thriving by any means possible. How can we not? We are no longer plagued by the hardships and dangers our ancestors constantly braved. We have moved past just survival – it is now a certainty and a privilege in this era. Perhaps if men of old did not have the foresight and the eagerness to toil on our behalf, laying the foundation on which our so-called better world stands today, we would all be dead. The point is not to speak ill of our society. Many brilliant and hardworking men and women contributed to its present grandeur, despite its shortcomings. The point is to emphasize the courage and tenacity of our predecessors that many modern people so often lack, regardless of our sophistication – or rather, because of it. That we are here today gives testament to their hardiness, the result of the driving force of a basic and urgent need of survival – a need that is foreign, even silly to many people today.

The need for survival is the fundamental instinct of every creature. It is especially true of humans. We can announce our biological dominance, superior intelligence, and ability to master the planet as much as we like. However, the fact cannot be understated. This instinct has driven us to seek ingenuous, safer, and comfortable ways of living. Our ancestors engaged in dangerous hunting, tedious gathering, and small-scale sustenance farming. We have plantations, orchards, animal farms, slaughterhouses, cold stores, food markets, coffee shops, restaurants, and extravagant kitchens, not to mention developments in medicine and pharmacy, advancements in technology and transportation.  In the past, people travelled great distances on horseback or on foot. Today, kids cannot go around the block without riding a taxi.

Some people may find my argument novel, even strange that all human endeavours of modernisation originates from a primitive survival instinct. (Or perhaps I have given our ancestors too much credit. After all, they are probably responsible for inciting more wars, suffering, and death than we have so far.) But is my argument truly senseless? Does not survival necessitates becoming better than one’s environment? I cannot think of a better way to do so other than persistently controlling and shaping the environment to suite our own liking, claiming it from the wild, and carving territory. Perhaps, our ancestors understood this when they decided to hunt, farm, build, and go to war.

Mortality and Legacy

If humans could live forever, would that not be the ultimate satisfaction of this instinct to survive? What is the point of surviving, if we are going die anyway? Some plants, by virtue of their age and resilience, are practically immortal, able to live for hundreds or thousands of years. Even their seeds may, after years of dormancy, sprout into younglings when exposed to air and water. Some taxonomic groups of animals, such as the hydra, jellyfish, and bacteria, are biologically immortal – they do not age, that is, undergo physical deterioration, not like the manner in which humans and many other life forms begin to deteriorate physically after maturity and reproduction. After forty to sixty years, the average person’s bones get weaker and hollower, heart and blood vessels become less elastic, liver and lungs become less efficient, muscles atrophy, his eyes and brain begin to lose their youthful power. He knows his end is near. For many men who are fortunate enough to have lived long to see the arrival of the next generation after their children, the concern – or fear – is not of death, but of legacy. He wants to know whether there was some purpose to his life, some work of note, some heroic deed, or inheritance he can pass on, through which his name might live on. Unlike those extraordinary plants and animals whose formative years span a millennium, each man will meet his demise all too soon.

It is superfluous to talk about legacy in terms of only material inheritance. A very wealthy family, by virtue of being wealthy, can claim a genealogy of industrious people. Nevertheless, their wealth in truth could have less to do with influence and industry, and more to do with corruption and murder. Although, a person who wields any degree of influence in a society in all probability possess significant wealth as well. Besides, there have always been a social hierarchy in any civilisation, where there exists the rich and the poor, the rulers and the subjects, the generals and the infantry, the masters and the slaves, the privileged and the disadvantaged, the favourites and underdogs, the cunning and the gullible. In such social dynamics, the strong will dominate the weak in every way that they can be. Usually, it is not because the strong can or want to, but because the weak allow it. It is important to seek to determine one’s place in this world with utmost realism, to know whether they are strong or weak, because the strong and the weak usually tend to remain so for generations. In any case, people who wield power, if their demise inevitably comes around, would rather relinquish it to one of their own blood.

Traditions of Inheritance

Have you ever wondered how and why royal families came about? I have. In most historic kingdoms and empires, ongoing rule of a kingdom is usually the birthright of the ruler’s children, and after his death, the oldest son must succeed him as king or emperor. What about the times when there were no kings? Judges ruled ancient Israel, before its first king, Saul. Seven kings ruled England before William the Conqueror. Genghis, born Temujin to peasant families, rose to power through a life of volunteering, making alliances, warmongering, and vengeance. Perhaps kings really are made, not born. Whether by brutality or by divine will does not seem to make any difference. Yet, when a king dies, it seems only natural that his son should take his place. After all, he is his father’s son.

To discuss the history of every emperor, king, earl, duke, judge, and nobleman would be problematic, not to mention a bit long for a mere blog. Moreover, by giving too much attention to royalty, I run the risk of overlooking the strength, nobility, and bravery of the common people in history and alive today, whom I intend to appraise with this essay. For it seems to me that what made the institution of monarchy by lineage indisputable is also true of those who had to prove their worth in the world not by ruling a kingdom, but by surviving. A legendary warrior has as much legacy in his blood as a beloved king. And in times past, a man who dares to survive long enough to see his children survive as well must be no less than legendary. As a king teaches his sons how to be a king by word and deed, so a warrior does the same for his sons, as do the artist, the philosopher, the fisherman, and the farmer. When you look upon a strong, wise, beloved king, it is not outlandish that his subjects expect his heir to turn out just as majestic, if not more. It is, therefore, sensible that the descendants of a man of valour become just as heroic, if not more.

It is not difficult to find documented lineages of notable people today who belong to royal families and such; so unlike the average person, who can only trace his lineage to three, maybe four generations. It appears that the genealogy of royalty is more important because the stakes are higher: royalty, even without the mantle of king, prince, or duke, still confers an array of immense power and privilege in this modern society; thus, any moron should be unable to claim to be of noble blood without unquestionable evidence. But you, what honours or privileges can you bestow on a stranger who said to you, ‘I am your father’s son?’ Or rather, what possible use can you have of a man who claims to be a descendant of your great grandfather? You probably would laugh at him, unless he were a sultan, the owner of an international oil company, or a celebrity. I know I would. Even though I am not any of those, yet if he is not at all worthy of note, I find his claim questionable – amusing at best, insulting at worst. Having said that, is it truly terrible to discover that one may possibly have familial ties with a stranger? Are not your own brothers and sisters, strangers who happen to share the same parents as you? We certainly do not think of it that way. Perhaps we feel that our own families are special. We may not have blue blood, but no matter how low or destitute we are, we feel prideful, entitled, and better than any other family. This familial pride often finds subtle or overt manifestations in social unions such as friendships, marriages, sometimes even business. Although an old-fashioned practice these days, parents are still likely to scrutinise, disapprove of, and be hostile to a friend or lover solely because he or she comes from a certain family or tribe.

Yet it is interesting how this sensation is largely unconscious, one we express only in times when an outsider invades our household to threaten its ancestral supremacy and integrity, even if we ourselves have no idea what that entails. Many people live with lack of pride or motivation, and it is hard to say whether they care if it bothers them or their families. At the end of the day, it seems not knowing where one’s family resides in the hierarchy of society is a great determinant of the degree of importance and urgency with which they conduct their own lives. There is a reversal to this assumption, however. There are people who knew neither father nor mother, and still decided to make something of themselves. These individuals have more in common with many great kings of old who were made, not born.

In Closing

If you learned nothing from this essay, at least learn this: You are the product of a thousand generations of men who survived. Who knows, there have been both great and terrible men and women in your ancestry: rulers, tyrants, generals, warriors, raiders, thieves, builders, artists, farmers, slaves, traders, entrepreneurs… the possibilities are many. It is naïve to assume that one’s ancestry is full of good, brave, cultured, and harmless people. It is just as presumptuous to assume that there could have been no unscrupulous, lazy, gullible, corrupt, immoral, oppressed, or ruthless characters in your lineage. If there were, can you honestly rebuke or hate any one of them for their way of life? They are dead, after all. In all probability, you should be grateful. They did what they had to do to survive and plunder their share of the world in which they lived. Otherwise, you may not be here. The dangers of the world have changed, but the fact remains, you still have to survive. Compared to their hardships, you can possibly thrive.

You should emulate your ancestors. Do what you have to do to thrive, as your ancestors did. Their capacity for strength, courage, knowledge, skill, leadership, cunning, brutality, and industry, and most essential, the instinct to survive, to be better, are in your blood. The social dynamics of success, power, and mating in this century has become even more complicated. It is unfortunate that many men today have neither the resources nor the social skills to seduce a suitable mate with whom they can procreate; their lineage will die out before the middle of this century. That fate invariably is their choice, the result of their own carelessness. The end of one’s lineage is considered a dreadful curse in many religions. Whether or not you subscribe to religion, it is not hard to understand why that is. Do not willingly partake in such a curse. The time to safeguard your posterity must start now. Begin with yourself, and then your children. Make sure you live in such a way that you shall have descendants long after you are gone. Become an ancestor they will be proud of, even if they will never know your name.

 

Intelligence I

The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.
Albert Einstein

Introduction

A quick search through the Internet yields a million definitions and meanings ascribed to this remarkable word: Intelligence. Most of these are just different versions and restatements of the same idea. A person is intelligent if they can get, understand, remember, and apply knowledge. The easier a man can do any or all of these, the more intelligent he is; the harder it is for him, the less intelligent he is. But surely, intelligence is so much more complicated than this, is it not? Given the incomprehensible amount of philosophy, study, and research available to enlighten the world about what intelligence is, what causes it, and how to increase it, it is modest to say that I am not the first to write about it.

Perhaps the most accepted fact about how intelligence manifests in a person is their ability to comprehend and use logic. Logic seems to be a purely human capacity that enables us to control the world, or at least to understand it. To a great extent, the physical laws of the universe, mathematics, biological and chemical processes, matters of law and politics, even social relationships, all seem to predicate on logic: Observing events and determining the condition or set of conditions that makes said event true or probable; discovering scientific proofs for the behaviour of matter and developing mathematical relationships between them; theorizing outcomes of experiments and using them to explain the real world; classifying and describing human behaviour through observation, and finding ways to unlock human potential and control deviants; manipulating currency; settling disputes; and so on, are examples of the potency of logic at work.

However, to employ logic, there must be facts, for without accurate and thorough examination of facts, application of logic is moot. Knowledge is therefore a collection of verifiable and related facts. Every field of study has knowledge that is useful in that field. Doctors have very little use for the Theory of Relativity. A magistrate does not care at all whether the courtroom where he judges cases has been optimally designed to account for acoustics to efficiently carry the sound of his voice and gavel to the audience. Nobody expects accountants to know the atomic numbers of all three radioisotopes of naturally occurring Uranium. On the other hand, one can imagine that both the physicist and the civil engineer will benefit greatly from an aptitude for mathematics. Whatever the area of specialty, an individual is required to wield a significant amount of information, if he or her is to be considered adept in that area. Moreover, he or she must be able to identify, refute, and disregard misinformation and lies. Hence, the ability to acquire and apply a vast amount of useful knowledge in a certain field is indicative of intelligence.

Even an average, healthy, and mindful human should be capable of logical reasoning, studying, and making educated deductions about things that interests him or her. However, certain individuals seem to possess brainpower in a high degree such that it allows them to see new patterns in the universe, discover new knowledge, and create things that are original and revolutionary. We tend to call such individuals geniuses. Likewise, there are others who have a flippant attitude towards education and ineptness in logical thinking. One might conclude that such people were born with little or no measure of intelligence at all. Brainpower differs from one person to another. Hence the term Intelligence Quotient, or I.Q. I.Q. is the world’s unit of measurement for quantifying intelligence and classifying people based on how bright they are. I.Q. tests have become the order of the day. In fact, in some spheres, every factor that can account for a person’s performance, especially school children, college students, and workers, have been neglected in favour of the almighty I.Q. Undoubtedly, I.Q. has its usefulness in establishing the baseline of person’s capacity to reason, recognise patterns, and memorise. But there are detriments of using I.Q. scores as a basis for one’s life choices (more on this later).

No doubt, the mind of a genius is impressive in every imaginable way. Of course, not every instance of human achievement comes from complex thinking, logic, and years of study. According to Howard Gardner, there are seven forms of intelligences – well, eight, actually. He came up with this theory three decades ago. Gardner’s theory of intelligence or intelligences is more appealing than I.Q. because it insinuates that everyone can be intelligent in one way or another. Actually, I.Q. is said to be a measure of the g factor, or general intelligence. I don’t totally get that…what the heck does that even mean? Well, that makes two of us. But I have had some time to sift through a lot of it. So, allow me to simplify as best as I have learned.

The current, de facto list of the types of intelligence is as follows: Musical, Visual, Linguistic, Logical, Bodily, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, and Naturalist. Each of these aspects or learning paths is concerned with a particular set of skills or outcomes.

Musical intelligence is the ability to appreciate tones, rhythm, and harmony; to hear and think in sounds and beats, even without any physical sounds, voices, or instruments; and to create exceptional pieces of music that are worth consuming. Visual intelligence is the ability to visualise images and three dimensional space and objects; to be able to imagine or mentally construct (see with the mind) how things are or would look like from real clues like a description, blueprint or map, or purely from imagination. Linguistic intelligence is concerned with the comprehension and use of language – reading, writing, and speaking; to understand the subtleties of literal and figurative uses of language. Logical intelligence is concerned with logic, equations, codes, theories, analysis, experimentation, classification, and philosophy; creating order from chaos, gleaning information from observation and deduction, and solving complex problems. Bodily intelligence is the capacity to move the body, parts of the body, or an object with purpose, absolute control, and perfect timing; the possession of excellent hand-eye coordination, reflexes, and agility; it often materialises as excellence in sports, grace in dancing, competence in physical combat, and dexterity in using tools and equipment.

Interpersonal intelligence may also be called social skills – the ability to know, relate to, and understand people. It includes considering people’s opinions, perceiving feelings, discerning facial expressions and other non-verbal communication cues, bonding and teamwork, building relationships, and so on. Intrapersonal intelligence is essentially the capacity for self-awareness and introspection, the drive to determine one’s place in the order of things; and to analyse, alter, and learn from one’s own behaviour, motivations, plans, and experiences.

Naturalist intelligence is concerned with the natural world, not in the sense that the spatial learner visualises objects and space, or the logical learner gains knowledge by observation, analysis, and experimentation. Naturalists possess a kind of sensitivity to nature, a liking for being outdoors, and an affinity for plants, animals, rocks, water bodies, and landscape. They may be interested in studying the weather, natural phenomena, and the cosmos.

Obviously, the theory of eight intelligences makes sense, given the diversity and combinations of abilities that human beings everywhere exhibit. There is also the concept of general intelligence, or g factor, which can be measured by I.Q. tests. The psychometric studies and theories behind general intelligence is quite extensive. But the premise is that a person’s g factor, or I.Q. for that matter, is useful in determining his or her level of intelligence and mental energy, and can in fact predict success in his or her life. I.Q. tests today usually assess an individual’s linguistic, logical, and spatial intelligences: their capacity to read and write, recognise shapes and patterns, describe objects, analyse events or problems and come up with explanations or solutions, manipulate numbers, and solve equations.

I shall discuss the theory of eight intelligences and g factor in subsequent posts. Before then, I must say this: anyone who is old and smart enough to apply any amount of introspection to themselves is intelligent. Humans are capable of planning and action because we are driven to move forward. It is the default setting of all living things: to find purpose and responsibility. And so that is how you must live everyday. At the end of the day, intelligence is power, but it is foolish to assume that little effort is needed to express intelligence and reap the benefits. Laziness is the death of intelligence. If one does not deliberately and incessantly apply the mental faculties, they will wither away.

Live Long and Prosper

“When we ask what man wants out of life, we deal with his very essence.”
Abraham Maslow

Everyone, no matter their station in life, asks questions. It is how human beings make requests and have our needs and demands fulfilled. It is how we discover knowledge about ourselves, other people, and things around us. It is how we satisfy our curiosity about the universe. An individual who does not ask any questions at all is probably very intimidated by people or very averse to learning and discovery. Neither is healthy.

At some point in life, anyone will have to ask, Why am I alive? Why am here? These are questions mankind has asked for millennia, to which countless people from all walks of life claim to have answers. One can find thousands of literature, some recent, and some as old as the first human civilisation, concerning the subject matter of life’s purposes and how to fulfil them. Kings, emperors, men of state, tyrants, courtiers, warriors, priests, prophets, philosophers, poets, mathematicians, artists, musicians, craftsmen – everyone seems to have their own ideas about how life should be lived if one is to attain peace, health, happiness, love, and power, among other aspirations of man. Yet, it seems only a privileged few discover answers that the entire human race yearns to know. The rest of us, in spite of our best efforts, might as well be grasping at straw like drowning men and women in the daily concerns of our mundane lives.

There are many theories that the common man, who is most likely frustrated at life, can come up with when he considers people who smoothly glide through life. Such individuals seem able to weather every catastrophe, surmount every challenge, succeed at every endeavour, and come out unscathed, while obtaining wealth, love, and happiness that the average person can only dream about. The most common reason, or rather excuse, are that perhaps such individuals inherited their fortunes, and are living off the legacy of quite successful ancestors. They don’t have to struggle daily in order to find bread, and clothe and protect themselves from the sun and rain, he might say, Everything has been handed to them; they’re free to do anything they want! But this is true only about some individuals. Of course, in any society, there are those who, at the moment of birth, are handed the proverbial silver spoon; whereas there are others who made do with little, or have had to claw their way out of the gutter. Still, there are those who do nothing; they accept their circumstances as it is, that nothing can be done about them, and so remain unhappy and agitated all their lives.

Another excuse the common man might raise is that the social structure of his generation poses a formidable hindrance to his progress, thwarting all his efforts to obtain some semblance of meaning to his existence. Perhaps he is uneducated and unskilled, and he blames his folks for not putting him through formal education, or the state for not providing enough jobs. Perhaps the state requires him to pay ridiculous taxes from his already meagre salary, or his ex-wife demands child support, but without so much as a weekend to spend with his adorable daughter (who is probably developing a number of psychological issues due to living in a home without her father). Perhaps he was let go from his job due to a recent injury, his old age, or the arrival of a new boss or a more qualified grunt, and neither the state nor his friends care how he should feed himself or his family. He is as helpless as he is bitter.

Of course, there is also the case where a man or woman blessed with luxury, showered with love, and who would never know the meaning of hunger or homelessness, decides to squander it all, much like the popular parable of the prodigal son in the Bible. It is not uncommon to encounter people in history and in our daily lives who had it all and lost it all.

This begs the questions, What is the difference between those who escape the gutter and those who remain in it? What causes those born with talent to squander their potential? Why do some people exploit opportunity and others seem almost blind to it? What compels one man to throw away his life, and yet another man fights like hell for life he never had?

Perhaps it is destiny. Perhaps each person has a fate that cannot be changed or controlled. Perhaps that fate can be changed. Or maybe there is no such thing as fate at all, and that each person gets what they believe, need, want, or deserve. Perhaps the life of an individual is shaped by their beliefs and motivations, their need for survival or hedonism, and a fixed or alterable fate has nothing to do it. Whatever the case, it is clear that what people live, or think they should live their lives, is guided by a reason that they tell themselves. That rationale becomes the source of all other beliefs, opinions, motivations, and choices; it influences the urgency or negligence with which they go about their daily activities. It can make them accept and bear unnecessary suffering because they believe they deserve it or it is inevitable – it may even cause them to give up on life itself – or it can enable them to develop the grit to do anything possible to get out of any hardship. It affects the way they appreciate family, look for friends, engage with strangers, and make enemies. It also determines how they accept happiness and process loss, how they judge the importance of one piece of knowledge or from another, and what they use it for. That reason for living can provide direction – or indirection – in every area of the individual’s life.

The why of a man’s life is the wheel with which he or she steers the ship. It dictates his destination; the route to take, which seas to sail, to get there, and the crew to hire. And while at sea, based on the goals of his voyage, the strength of his ship, and the skills and courage of his crew, he can boldly decide to sail through or steer clear of storms. He can decide to befriend fellow sailors, and to avoid or do battle with pirates. A well-planned voyage has a clear route, a specific destination, and plans to account for contingencies and dangers that might occur at sea. And, even after all that preparation, he must constantly consult his maps, spyglass, compass, his crew, and the stars, in order to be sure he is on the correct course.

Every captain  strives for the ideal success of a voyage across the ocean, which means the safe arrival of his ship at the port, all passengers accounted for, all cargo intact, and the crew healthy and ready to sail again after a few days of well-earned rest. In life, however, success is measured by the journey, not the end of it; for the end of life is death. Death is a tragic ending to any life, regardless of its owner’s accomplishments or failures. Whatever the individual had accomplished, and was working on, is etched in stone forever at the moment of death; life becomes legacy, although not all legacy can stand the test of time. Some people are forgotten only moments after they pass on. Indeed, some people are forgotten even before they draw their last breath. Some are appreciated for their exemplary lives or for the good things they did for others. And then, sooner or later, memories of them gradually fade away, and life must go on; because, no matter how good, generous, and helpful they were, the dead cannot assist the living in any way. Still, there are others who are still remembered decades, even centuries, after their passing. These are men whose deeds and contributions to society were and are still memorable and relevant today, and will be for years to come; men whose legacies are too important or too terrible to forget.

Not all of mankind can leave behind lasting legacies for posterity. We all cannot be great emperors, kings, or statesmen of great civilizations, or valiant soldiers and heroes of our time. Not everybody is gifted to be an artist or sculptor like Michelangelo, or can compose extraordinary music like Beethoven or Chopin. Not everyone must be a popular singer, renowned athlete, or distinguished actor; and certainly not anyone can be president, as some people at times joke about. In fact, few humans of late have the time and tenacity to study and understand mathematics, physics, psychology, or philosophy to a significant degree of mastery. Some people may consider my argument that some people are only capable of some things is nonsense. I can be anything I want to be, they will say. Perhaps to deny that claim is tantamount to saying that human potential is simply non-existent in some people. But one may fail to consider the fact that the capabilities and best efforts of a person are sometimes limited and impeded by nature, culture, and personal beliefs and expectations. But the irony is that some of those who cry loudest about their potential to be great are those who often accomplish nothing at all.

One ought to know what their environment will allow them to have and do. More importantly, one has to find out what they want, and what they are truly happy and effective at doing. Which is why, in my opinion at least, the beauty of a life lies in its longevity and its prosperity. A long life usually denotes many healthy years, and more time to accomplish something worthwhile and lasting. Prosperity is often the result of strategy, commitment, discipline, and action. It is the pride and joy and profit one derives from surmounting difficulties and solving problems. Longevity must go hand in hand with prosperity. A long life filled with poverty, regret, and misery is torture. A prosperous but short life is quite a letdown; perhaps if he lived longer, the strategic, committed, and disciplined man could have achieved so much more.

History is filled with men and women who embody the ideals of an ideal life: longevity and prosperity. But I do not believe that one can find them all in the history books. Not everyone can be important to the whole world. But anyone can be important to someone else. Therefore, if anyone should ask, Why am I alive? Why am I here? I would say, You’re alive because you must live. And you’re here to prosper. Whatever you do or don’t do must either prolong life, or make it better than it was – whether it is your life, or someone else’s.

Live long and prosper. That is why you are here.