For the sake of argument

The pitfalls of the Ten Commandments

For the sake of argument

The pitfalls of the Ten Commandments


The pitfalls of the Ten Commandments

For the sake of argument


One of the commonly shared codes is the Ten Commandments. As in many other schemes of ethics, there is very much truth and wisdom in them, but some of them are not as wise as others. For instance, the injunction to honor thy father and mother that thy days may be long in the land was perfectly satisfactory in the kind of system in which it was said; that

is. if you didn't honor your father and mother, they were entitled to do you in, because it was that kind of society.

But honoring fathers and mothers now does not necessarily lengthen one's days at all. I think it is much more satisfactory to see fathers and mothers clearly, and they will be honored if they are honorable, they will be respected if they merit respect, they will be loved if they are lovable. But commanding children to do that sort of thing is futile. It doesn't have any useful effect or value. the child decide

In fact, I do not believe the imposing of any commandments on children is effective. I believe that they need an object lesson before them, a picture of what man-andwoman behavior is like at its best, as seen in their fathers and mothers, and then they will grow into that picture more satisfactorily than will children who have commandments imposed upon them.

There are such things, of course, as matters of faith. This. I believe, the child needs to be told perfectly clearly; that something is a matter of faith with the parent, and then it should be explained why the parent believes in or has this particular faith. If it is the accident of his birth, the child should know

it. If the parent has been convinced by someone's arguments, that too needs to be told to the child. But the important thing is that just because the parent has adopted a faith, it is not necessar-

ily at all the best faith for a child, or for a child when he grows up.

That should be for him to decide, not the parent or anybody else.

Because the childhood of every person remains part of him all his life, it surely is reasonable to suggest that we should never teach anything to children that is not literally true, because children have very literal minds. We must realize that children and grownups are continuous. No person is one year old and then stops being one year old and becomes two years old. No person is five years old and stops being five years old and is ten years old. or stops being ten years old and is twenty or thirty or forty years old. Every person is the accumulated sum of his whole experience.

There is a one-year-old in every grownup extant, still there, with the attitudes the one-year-old child had. Every person extends from infancy to his latest development. but he doesn't stop being one thing when he takes on something else. He adds his experience to his accumulated total, and part of every person has the necessities of the infant, the necessities of the child also, and the necessities of the juvenile, the young adult, and eventually added to it the necessities of the old person. Each part of this extended personality needs its particular types of satisfaction.

This concept is important. Many people feel that it doesn't matter very much what you teach a twoyear-old child because he is going to stop being a two-year-old child and after awhile be a five-year-old child, which is a different thing. It isn't. The two-year-old child is still the basis, the foundation, for the five-year-old child, and the fiveyear-old child is the first or second or fifth story of the building that will be the adult later on. If the five-year-old child is broken up in pieces, if he has conflicts within his personality, if parts of himself


are at war continued on page 44

For the sake of argument continued from page 6

“Parents generally have two standards of truth —one for children and one for everybody else”

with other parts of himself, it will be extremely difficult for him to act as a sound foundation for the grown-up person that he will later become. If continual building goes on. as it does in every intelligent person, on the foundation of childhood experience, by the time he has added thirty or forty or fifty stories, as it were, the stability of the early stories becomes tremendously important. It will determine whether the upper levels of his structure will stand or not. because the early stories are still part of the personality, indeed are the very foundation of every personality.

This, I think, we have not learned sufficiently. When we think about it, we all know that it is true, and yet we feel that we have a license, as it were, to misinform children without any feeling of irresponsibility; to tell them weird things; even to teach them things or have other people teach them things that we don't believe ourselves.

This, of course, is unfair not only to the individual child, but is unfair socially. unfair to the human race, because the human race cannot afford to have good material spoiled, good material which might contribute to its eventual security.

These are responsibilities that lie firmly on parents. Nobody else can take their place. Later on teachers can help, but

a teacher may spend all his time and effort in only trying to repair some of the damage done by parents without doing any really constructive thing, just repairing damage. If that is necessary— and it may take years to repair the damage if it can ever be done at all—much time is wasted, and the child will probably not be able to develop to anywhere near the degree of maturity that he should have been able to reach if his parents hadn’t crippled him when he was very young.

Most of our children are exposed to lies regularly. Parents generally have two entirely separate standards of truth— one for children and one for everybody else. Of course there are parents who simply lie to everybody, but even for those who consider themselves “honest," lying to children seems to be entirely outside the moral code.

Please do not suppose that when I say that we should always tell the truth to children, I mean to suggest that the fairy tale should be rooted out. The fairy tale, the myth, the Santa Claus, all these things are charming and even valuable— as myths. What I do mean is that every child should be told, before he has a fairy story read or narrated to him, that it isn’t true, so that he knows it isn’t true. If he doesn't know that, the parent

is not helping him to get in touch with reality.

When a child is very small, fantasy and reality are not distinct. One of the maior problems that a child has to solve during his development is how' to sort out fantasy and reality, so that he know's when he is dealing in real things and when he is dealing with fantasy. This is an extremely important achievement— the ability to know with certainty what is fantasy and what is reality. It forms the basis for a sound imagination—a most desirable quality, but if the lines are not clearly drawn, if the parents do not help the child to distinguish between fantasy and reality, the child may, as many people do, go on through his life without ever clearly grasping what the difference is. He will grow up without thinking in terms of cause and effect: “Who knows? A fairy may come along and fix everything up so that 1 need not suffer the uncomfortable results of what 1 did.” It is easy to see that such thinking is conducive to irresponsible behavior later on.

But let us not do away with fairies and Santa Claus. Let us play them as games. Children are capable of imagining harmlessly as long as they know they are imagining. They can imagine little playmates of all kinds: they can imagine all sorts of animals, all kinds of people without any damage whatever as long as that fantasy isn't supported seriously by grownups.

We know more now than we used to about the kinds of things that handicap children's development, and we know what the needs of children are. If asmall child is given sufficient food and sufficient shelter, sufficient water or moisture to stay alive, the next requirement is love: close, warm, physical-contact love.

In this area, in our wonderfully advanced North America, we. oddly enough, are behind certain other cultures when it comes to loving our babies. We have acquired some rather dreadful habits—all in the name of Hygiene.

1 am reminded of the time, some years ago. when I was in Pakistan, and was being guided through a very large general hospital. We passed the screened door to a ward. Suddenly, someone pointed out to me. with great enthusiasm, something away off on the horizon in the opposite direction. There was something nearby they didn't want me to see. Therefore 1 was quite sure that whatever was hidden behind this screen, d door I should see.

I insisted, at some risk of offense, on seeing this ward, and when I insisted, my guides began apologizing, saying that I wouldn't really like to see it at all. It was of a very old pattern: they were ashamed of it: they hoped to get it changed: they hoped that the World Health Organization might help them get the money to adopt modern and new patterns for this particular ward, because it was very bad indeed. It was a pattern hundreds of years old.

However, I still insisted that even as an antiquity 1 would like to see it. 1 went in to see this ward, with the reluctant accompaniment of the train of people with me. and 1 saw the best maternity ward I have ever seen in any country, far better than any I have ever seen in North America. Here was a big maternity ward with beds down both sides. The foot posts of each bed were extended up about three feet or so. and slung between the foot posts was a cradle. The baby was in the cradle, and I noticed as I looked down the ward that one squeak out of the baby and up would come the mother's foot, and with her toe she would rock the

cradle. On the second squeak, which showed that the baby was really aw-ake, she would reach into the cradle and take the baby into her arms, where a baby is supposed to be most of the time.

They wanted to get rid of that perfectly beautiful arrangement, to put their babies under glass the way we do. and to keep them in inspection wards where they can be seen at a distance by their loving fathers whenever they visit. and taken to their mother if she is good and does as the nurse tells her! They wanted to do all that because we

Westerners had given them the impression that all our methods are superior to theirs.

Those babies, if they develop an infection. recover from it twice as fast as ours do. These people are not producing little neurotic babies of one month old the way we are. Their babies do not feel themselves out in the cold world, do not feel that nobody loves them from the moment they are born, as many of ours do. Mothers in that part of the world regard as perfectly savage some of the customs they have

heard about in North America where mothers actually take their babies to hospitals, leave them there, and go home. No mother in Southeast Asia would do such a thing. She would fight everybody in the hospital before she would leave her baby there and go home without it. And she is right, demonstrably right.

I am not suggesting that we copy all the patterns of these other countries. We need to be discriminating about other people's customs as well as our own. but we can learn a great deal about

human relations, about the up-bringing of children, from these people. Whenever we become humble enough to learn with discrimination from others’ experiments in living, we will begin to progress more steadily than we arcnow. Unfortunately we tend to regard our own living patterns as fixed and of universal value and so we naturally think everyone should copy us. This is just not true.

Let us realize and accept the fact that we arc ignorant about a great many things. A few hundred years ago, in the Middle Ages, all things were known; everything was in the book—certainly in Christian countries—and it was regarded as heretical to question anything that was known. Any attempt to advance knowledge was regarded as an attack on the orthodoxies of the time. That has been true in many parts of the world at many times, because orthodoxies have set up beliefs appropriate to

one stage of development, but then they are frozen and not allowed to develop further, not allowed to grow with the advancing stage of knowledge.

Orthodoxies or dogmas expressed in the attitudes acceptable to our remote ancestors may or may not be acceptable to us now. And we should be the judges of what we will or will not accept, because we do know more now than outancestors ever knew before. Some such dogmas may continue to be valid, in that they are still reasonable in relation to the knowledge that we continue to gain all the time; some of them may be found to be valid from a scientific point of view. But if we find that some of the attitudes of our ancestors do not fit our world as it is today, we should surely do our ancestors the honor of believing that if they were here now they would have the sense to change their minds, and would no longer see things the same way they did many years ago. if