Tell Them the Truth

What does Chisholm mean when he says: "We should stop teaching children rights and wrongs"? Here’s the answer in his own words

BOCK CHISHOLM,M.D. January 15 1946

Tell Them the Truth

What does Chisholm mean when he says: "We should stop teaching children rights and wrongs"? Here’s the answer in his own words

BOCK CHISHOLM,M.D. January 15 1946

Editor's Note: This article was digested from the public statements of the Deputy Minister of National Health, who has approved the text.

FOR THE first time in history man faces the problem of his own survival as a species.

We have no reason to assume that he will survive. Man has. existed on earth only a million or two million years, and many an organism now extinct lasted longer than that; Man, too, might be recognized as a mistake quite early in his development and become extinct.

 It could happen during, or shortly after, the next war. Professor Albert Einstein, who wrote the basic equation for atomic energy 40 years ago, thinks about one third of the human race has a chance to survive the next war. Other scientists think he is unduly optimistic, but in any case there is real, sober peril that only a few people will survive, in widely dispersed places, and that the world will return to the jungle. Our problem is to ensure that mankind survives in sufficient numbers to fulfill his destiny.

And we must conclude that the problem cannot be solved by our sort of people, because we are the sort of people who make wars. War is the most consistent behavior pattern of the human race throughout history. In all ages, all cultures, all continents men have fought each other at intervals of a generation, often less and almost never more.

Why do we do this? Can we identify the reasons why we fight wars?

Yes, we can. Most of the causes of war, any war, are easy to list: Prejudice; the ability, emotionally and uncritically, to believe unreasonable things; excessive desire for material or power; excessive fear of others; belief in a destiny to control others; vengeance; ability to avoid seeing and facing unpleasant facts and taking appropriate action.

These are the main reasons why we find ourselves involved in wars. They are also, every one of them, well-known and recognized neurotic symptoms, familiar to every psychiatrist.

We call the Germans neurotics, paranoids and so on, and doubtless we’re right. But we’re no less entitled to call our own reaction neurotic. We are the guilible people who twice in one lifetime believed what wasn’t true, and deliberately refused to believe what was true, because it was nasty and we didn’t want to believe it.

"... Those Who Will Not See”

I WOULD like to quote a German officer, a doctor, intelligent and keen, whom I knew quite well in 1934. At that time, a year after Hitler took power, that officer told me quite clearly what the Germans were going to do, how they were going to do it, what their organization was developed toward at that time and what it would look like when they finished. The picture, to him, was perfectly clear. There would be a Prussian governor in every city and province of the world, with absolute power of life and death over all the people, under orders from Berlin. Prussian agricultural experts would organize the Canadian wheat farms. The German people, servants of the Prussians, would garrison the world. This was destiny—destiny of the human race to be controlled by the superior Prussian Kultur.

I asked if it bothered him that he talked so freely about this intention, and he said, “Not at all. You people don t want to believe that, and you won’t until it’s too late.”

He was dangerously close to being right. Long ago a wise man said, “If a man have a garden in which there are .poisonous serpents and beautiful flowers, he must first deal with the serpents before he may enjoy the flowers.”

The neurotic person doesn’t do this. He goes about his garden, admiring the flowers and pretending that there are no serpents, or, if there are, that they’re not poisonous—they are pleasant little playthings.

That is reminiscent of ourselves during the periods 1908 to 1914, and again from 1933 to 1939. We pretended everything in the garden was lovely, that everyone loved everyone else, that there weren’t going to be any more wars. The dear Germans were naturally slightly misguided, as we ourselves came to be sometimes, but they would recover and become the nice people they had always been at heart.

No one but a well-developed neurotic could have believed that, in the face of the overt, advertised evidence during those years. But we believed it.

We are the people who allowed two world wars to arise. In my own mind there is no doubt whatever that if the English-speaking world had faced the facts as the facts were advertised in those pre-war years, they could have stopped both wars. But they went right on pretending that there weren’t going to be any wars. They were just as neurotic, and just as much responsible for war, as the Germans.

What we must have to prevent World War III, and perhaps the extinction of mankind, is enough mature people in all countries, and in the right places, people without the neurotic necessities that drive human beings into war. We have never done this before. We have never, any time or anywhere, had enough people able to see and accept facts, people who did not show the neurotic symptoms which we and every generation of our ancestors have shown, and which make wars inevitable.

How can we do it?

For the answer to that question we must first ask another: What causes these neurotic symptoms in individuals?

Just lately, in the last 30 years or so, psychiatrists have found out; the causes. It is very difficult for one human being to know anything of what goes on inside another human being, or even inside himself. But in this century we have developed a new technique called psychoanalysis.

It’s a slow, cumbersome business. The psychoanalyst and patient have to spend at least an hour together every day, and keep it up for at least a year. But it does reveal things inside a human being that hadn’t been known before. It’s been done in many thousands of cases, and the results have checked well enough to establish certain things as new scientific facts.

For instance, psychoanalysts have found out what the human conscience is. We used to think conscience was a still small voice telling us, infallibly, what’s right and what’s wrong. But if it were, it would tell everybody the same thing.

It doesn’t. An Eskimo’s conscience tells him one thing, a Hottentot’s conscience tells him another, and a Torontonian’s conscience is different from both of them. You never, absolutely never, find an Eskimo born with a Hottentot conscience, or either of them born with a Toronto conscience unless, of course, the Eskimo or Hottentot is brought to Toronto as an infant and brought up like all the other Torontonians. And in that case they’re equally certain to have a Torontonian, and not an Eskimo or a Hottentot, conscience.

Your conscience is what you have been told right and wrong are. What psychoanalysts have discovered—a very important new fact—is that those basic attitudes are planted in the human mind before the age of six. Your conscience is what your mother told you before you were six years old.

And another equally important thing they’ve discovered: that in almost all cases, neurotic symptoms are caused by the burden of inferiority, guilt and fear that we all carry on our consciences. That’s what’s at the root of the human being’s failure to mature.

With this in mind, let’s turn from the individual to the nation, the world. Something, some universal force, has been present in all cultures to prevent the development of all, or almost all, the people to a state of true maturity.

What basic psychological distortion can be found in every civilization of which we know anything? It must be a force which produces inferiority, guilt and fear; which prevents the rational use of the intelligence; which discourages the ability to see and acknowledge patent facts, and which teaches or encourages the ability to believe contrary to, and in spite of, clear evidence; which makes controlling other people’s behavior emotionally necessary; which encourages prejudice and the inability to see, understand or sympathize with other people’s point of view.

Is there any force so potent and pervasive that it can do all these things, in all civilizations? There is— just one. The only lowest common denominator of all civilizations, the only psychological force capable of producing these perversions is morality, the concept of right and wrong, the poison long ago described and warned against as “the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

In the old Hebrew story God warns the first man and the first woman to have nothing to do with good and evil. It is interesting to note that as long ago as that, “good” was recognized to be just as great a menace as “evil.” They are the fruit of the one tree, and are different aspects of the same thing. We have been very slow to rediscover that truth, and to recognize the unnecessary and artificially imposed inferiority, guilt and fear, commonly known as sin, under which we have all labored, and which produces so much of the social maladjustment and unhappiness in the world. For many generations we have bowed our necks to the yoke of the conviction of sin. We have swallowed all manner of poisonous certainties fed us by our parents, our Sunday and day school teachers, our politicians, our priests, our newspapers and others with a vested interest in controlling us.

Manacles On Your Mind

“And ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil”—good and evil with which to keep children under control, with which to prevent free thinking, with which to impose local and familial and national loyalties, and with which to blind children to their glorious intellectual heritage. The inevitable results are frustration, inferiority, neurosis, and inability to enjoy living, to reason clearly or to make a world fit to live in.

The crippling of intelligence by these bandages of belief, in the name of virtue and security for the soul, is as recognizable as that of the feet of the Chinese girl who was sacrificed to the local concept of beauty. The result, in both cases, is not beauty of character or of feet, but distortion and crippling and loss of natural function.

Intelligence is man’s only specific weapon for survival, and his destiny must lie in the direction indicated by his equipment. Whatever hampers or distorts man’s clear true thinking works against man’s manifest destiny and tends to destroy him.

Freedom to think freely is as essential to man’s survival as are the specific methods of survival of the other animals to them. Birds must fly, fish must swim, man must think freely. That freedom is present in all children —it’s known as innocence. It has been destroyed or crippled by local certainties, by gods of local moralities, of local loyalty, of personal salvation, of prejudice and hate and intolerance (frequently masquerading as love)— gods of everything that would destroy freedom to think, and would keep each generation under the control of the old people, the elders, the shamans and the priests.

This training has been practically universal in the human race. Variations in content have had almost no importance—the fruit is poisonous no matter how it is prepared or disguised. This training does not, evidently, produce mature human beings. It produces people like you and me, people who have this fatal, ineradicable habit of making war.

Until lately we were able to indulge this habit with relative impunity. We have always killed each other as best we could—people have grown no worse. We have even grown better in a good many ways. It’s only 150 years since hundreds of little boys were used up every year as chimney sweeps in the city of London alone. Hundreds more were expended in the mines, worked to death. We don’t do that kind of thing nowadays, or at least not so frankly. Some people began to think that we were really doing all right, that in another 500 or 600 years we might become civilized.

These optimists overlooked the progress we were making at killing each other. In the old days we may have done it with more enthusiasm, but we did it badly, inefficiently. It was piecework.

Now we kill each other wholesale, and very efficiently indeed. Of all our other improvements, none has equalled the improvement in our methods of killing people. We have come through two world wars in which all the fittest, keenest and best on both sides were carefully selected to be killed, or to risk being killed. Now we look forward to war in which there will be no selection at all, in which every man, woman, and child, and every animal and every plant in a combat area will be wiped out.

So we as a species are in very urgent and imminent danger. We are past the point where it is safe to let our loyalties include any less than the whole of mankind. We must somehow, within the next 25 or 30 years, produce enough mature people to break the chain of neurotic necessity that has bound every generation of which we have record. To produce a generation of mature citizens is the biggest and most necessary job any country could undertake.

Making Mature Men

What is maturity? What kind of human being must we produce to fill the breach in which our sort of man has failed?

Two eminent psychologists, Strecker and Appel, have defined maturity in terms of abilities which, if attained by enough people, would ensure the continued development of the race along the lines of its inherent destiny, without wars. After naming persistence, reliability, determination and the will to succeed, they say:

“The ability to size things up, make one’s own decisions, is a characteristic of maturity. This implies a considerable amount of independence. The mature person is not dependent unless ill. Maturity represents the capacity to co-operate, to work with others, to work in an organization and under authority. The mature person is flexible, can defer to time, persons, circumstances. He can show tolerance, he can be patient, and above all he has the qualities of adaptability and compromise.”

Were you and I brought up in that direction?

No, we were taught to be absolutely loyal to the local concept of virtue, whatever that happened to be. We were taught that Moslems or Jews, Grits or Tories, capitalists or socialists, Communists or Roman Catholics or Methodists or any of all other human groups were wrong and even wicked. Among all the people in the world only our own parents, and a few other people they selected, were right about everything. We could refuse to accept their rightness only at the price of a load of guilt and fear, and peril to our immortal souls. That’s what crippled us.

So the first thing we must do, to achieve a generation of mature human beings, is alter the basis of child training. We must substitute intelligent and rational thinking for faith in the “certainties” of the old people. We must stop imposing our local prejudices and faiths on our children. Instead we must give them all sides of every question, so that in their own good time they may have the ability to size things up and make their own decisions.

This suggestion that we should stop teaching children rights and wrongs and protect their original intellectual  integrity instead, is, of course, an outcry of “heretic” and " iconoclast.” The pretense is made, as it has been made to the finding of any extension of the truth, that to do away with right and wrong would produce uncivilized people, immorality, lawlessness, social chaos. The fact is that most psychiatrists and psychologists and many other respectable people have escaped from these moral chains and are able to think freely. Most of the patients whom they have treated successfully have done the same. Yet they show no signs of social or personal disintegration, no lack of social responsibility, no tendency toward social anarchy. These are the reactions of the immature, the inferior, the guilty. They are not found in the mature integrated personality.

Freedom from moralities means freedom to think and behave sensibly, to the advantage of the person and the group, free of outmoded loyalties and the magic fears of our ancestors.

To bring children up in these freedoms, we should put their training into more competent hands. Bringing up children is the most important thing in the world today. It is not a job for economic or emotional misfits; for frightened, inferiority-ridden men and women seeking a safe, respectable and quickly attainable emotional or social status; nor for girls filling in their time before marriage. To be allowed to teach children should be the sign of the final approval of society.

Today’s scale of values is clearly indicated by the disparity between teachers’ salaries and those of movie actresses or football coaches. We put the same monetary valuation on the teacher as we do on the unskilled laborer. Fortunately, in spite of this, there are recent signs of intellectual stirrings among teachers, which do give some hope.

‘‘A New Kind of Education”

What can we suggest to them as a chart for re-education or for a new kind of education? I would not presume to go far in this direction, but I would suggest that the sciences of living—psychology and sociology and simple psychopathology — be made available to all the people by being taught to all children in primary and secondary schools. Such things as trigonometry, algebra, Latin, religions and other subjects of specialist concern could he left to the universities.

Thus we would take a step toward solving our other and even more difficult problem, the problem of altering the training of the preschool child. Scientists have found, remember, that most of a human’s basic attitudes, the core of his mental make-up, is determined by the time he is six. Today no care at all is taken about the education of children in these vital years.

In one community I know, a charity group once set out to reclaim, convert and rehabilitate all the unmarried mothers in town. They adopted the simple procedure of giving each unmarried mother an intelligence test, and then training the girls in groups according to their I.Q.

In the upper levels of intelligence the girls were set to various types of useful training-—they learned to be stenographers or machine operators or salesgirls or cooks and so on. Down at the very bottom of the chart, at the moron level, they couldn’t think of any training the girls could absorb. So they classified and hired out these girls as nursemaids, to bring up small children. Hundreds of defenseless children in that large community have been brought up, through some of the most important years of their whole lives, by moronic unmarried mothers.

But as educators, even their own mothers may well have been little better. We take no trouble to see. Before a man would start out to raise pigs in Canada, he would, as a matter of course, go to an agricultural school and find out how pigs should be raised. Raising children is much more difficult, and more important to the community, than raising pigs. Yet nobody ever thinks of learning how to be a parent.

There seems no present likelihood of our establishing schools for parents, at least not in time to help the generation just born and about to be born, the generation on whom we must rely to prevent World War III. Fortunately, though, the most important single thing they ought to do for their children is simple not easy, but simple.

That thing is to tell their children the truth.

You may say, “We do teil our children the truth.” You do not. I have never, in many years of general and specialized practice, come across a child who had been told the literal and actual truth about everything.

Tell him the truth about sex, how babies come to be born, how they are conceived. These facts, like any other facts, should be given to children as soon as they show curiosity about them, which would normally be about the age of three.

Silence isn’t enough, either. A refusal or omission to talk about anything as important as sex will indicate, even to a very young child, that this subject is in a special category, that it’s a taboo. Whenever this happens the child’s desire for knowledge becomes shameful, becomes a guilt. The desire for knowledge should never be shameful.

Tell your child also the truth about religion, which is that different people believe different things. Tell him what you believe to be true, but don’t omit to tell him that this is just your opinion, that other people have different opinions. Don’t tell him a belief as if it were a fact.

Remember it isn’t necessary for a child to make up his mind about everything, or to know everything with certainty. He should be free to change his mind about anything including all of his parents’ opinions and faiths as he gains more information.

Gaps in his information won’t hurt him; it will always have gaps, all his life. But falsehood, told as truth, will hurt him a great deal. Telling lies to a child does permanent damage to his mind. A child who believes in Santa Claus, who really and literally believes, because his daddy told him so, that Santa comes down all the chimneys in the world on the same night has had his thinking ability permanently impaired if not destroyed.

Of course there’s no harm in fantasy provided the child knows it’s fantasy.

Any child can enjoy Santa Claus and fairies and all the rest of it, so long as he knows it isn’t true. But he has a right to know when you’re pretending and when you’re telling the truth. If he doesn’t know this it gives him a basic bewilderment that in most cases he carries for life.

Bending the Twig

Once I went into a child observation clinic, one of these playrooms with a one-way window at the side, so that you can watch the children when they can’t see you, and when they don’t know they’re being watched. They behave quite differently under these circumstances, and it’s very instructive.

There were two little boys in the playroom, one a youngster of about five or six and the other a smaller boy of about four. The smaller boy was almost crying, and he kept saying: “It does so, it does so!”

The older boy said, “Don’t be silly, it does not!”

The little boy put his hands over his ears and repeated, “It docs so, my daddy told me it does.”

The bigger boy pulled the little one’s hands away and yelled into his ear, “It does not—how could the sun go to bed at night? There aren’t any beds in the sky, are there?”

You see what was happening? The little boy could see it wasn’t true. He was recognizing that his father was a liar. He’d never trust his father again, and he’d be right.

Any father who would tell his child that the sun goes to bed at night isn't fit to be a father. And if we do tell our children these lies, our children will not grow up to be mature people. They will turn out as we are.

The little boy, you see, believes these stories; so he begins to build his picture of reality in these terms. That’s all right if he’s a moron. But if he’s intelligent it’s fatal, because it teaches the little boy not to think. Thinking doesn’t pay. Thinking leads you to see that your father is a liar, and you can’t take that when you’re only four or five years old—it’s too tough. So the little boy doesn’t take it. He puts it out of his mind. He puts the unpleasant tiling away and doesn't look at it any more.

If Hitler’s successor pushes the button that starts the next war, he, too, will put it out of his mind the same way —because his father taught him to when he was a little boy.