How Our Childhood Can Shape Our Adult Attitudes
The values and environment a growing child sees around them can shape their attitudes for the rest of their lives. Should we be paying more attention to these critical times?
There was an article in the Huffington Post today about the lasting effect a child's education can have on their view of the world. In this case it was about the effect of the Nazi's anti-Semitic propaganda on the German youth of the time and how this effect has lasted - Nazi Propaganda Left Life-long Mark On German Children: Study.
Unless you experienced this sort of thing at a personal level, I don't think you can understand how deeply ingrained these things can become. I've experienced it, but fortunately in a positive way rather than in a negative way. Well, fairly positive anyway :-)
The Second World War started over 3 generations ago, yet the ripples are still being felt today and sometimes in unexpected and personal ways. My father was a prisoner during the war. At times during his captivity the prisoners were very short of food, as a result my father couldn't bear to see food going to waste. The interesting thing, or perhaps I should say the scary thing, is that he passed this on to me. Not as strongly as he felt it to be sure, but I still feel very uncomfortable if I see food going to waste.
Think about that. The Second World War was 75 years ago, and I wouldn't be born until 25 years after it started, and I never experienced any part of it myself, yet it's influenced me in a very personal way all my life. It shows how these things can have knock on effects for multiple generations to come (a generation in human terms is about 25 years) and far beyond what you might initially expect.
It wasn't even as if he set out to pass it on, in fact I'm sure he didn't. By the time I grew up we were in a time of plenty where food was easily and readily accessible. He didn't admonish us not to waste food, or lecture us about it. Instead he educated us by example. He was always very careful with food, tried to make sure it went as far as possible and was never wasted. Seeing that kind of behaviour from a person who was literally my father-figure, that is someone I admired, revered and wanted to emulate, meant I was "programmed" at a very deep level to be aware of food as a resource, and more importantly at a level I wasn't even aware of until much later in my life when I realised what was going on.
I'm an intelligent person, I understand what's going on and I know exactly how it happened. But that doesn't change how I feel about wasting food on the inside. I've had to explain this to my partner so she understands my slightly unusual but thankfully mild paranoia about wasting food. For example, if more potatoes are cooked for the evening meal than are needed, they will be put away in the fridge and eaten for lunch tomorrow, regardless of whether I wanted to eat potatoes for lunch tomorrow or not :-). I just can't bear to see good food being thrown away.
And that's the disturbing thing, it means you can program a person at such a deep level that they may not even be aware that it's been done to them, and even if they are, they may find it difficult to completely throw off the conditioning. Hence a motto that is often attributed to the Jesuit order that says "Give me the boy until he is seven and I will give you the man.".
What kind of future do you want to live in?
So what to take away from this? Ask yourself, what values are you instilling in the children around you today? You don't have to be a parent to do this, we all interact with children at some level. So are the values you are showing them positive, maybe self-reliance, open-mindedness, or simply being nice to the people around you? Or are they negative, perhaps mild sexism, racism, or intolerance. And then think carefully about those values because they're probably going to be around for a very long time and they're going to shape the world of our future.
Are they going to create the kind of future you'd want to live in?