Ron Huxley’s Rant: I came across this very comprehensive article on the moral life of babies. I didn’t repost the entire article here because, well, it’s quite long and could get a bit boring. If you like that sort of thing I would encourage you to click the nytimes.com link above. Here’s the basic premise: Babies do come into the world with a bit of a moral compass. It is our job as parents to give it some refinement. This premise moved me to consider how are parenting philosophy and techniques are based on how we think about babies.
The researchers conducted several experiments demonstrating that children experience empathy and have sense of right and wrong from the earliest moments of their lives. Their solutions to moral problems (how two children will share one toy that both believed they had their eye on first) may be limited due to their cognitive limitations and lack of social guidance but their innate understanding that some injustice has occurred is right on. Astute parents have witnessed their children getting their feelings hurt by the most innocent of situations. I once looked at a baby wrong and she tightened her face up into a silent scream and then exploded into tears. This reaction doesn’t come without some moral frame of reference, however limited.
I am not sure why we like to believe children are “perfect idiots” or full of “blooming, buzzing (moral) confusion” as a couple of leading thinkers in the field have described them. My fear is that when we hold the idea that children are narcissistic sociopaths, we will respond to them in very adverse, punitive ways. I think this has definitely been the case historically. The parenting idea of “spare the rod and spoil the child” has lead too many parents to the point of physical and emotional abuse. In my career many parents that had their children removed really that they were doing the right thing by their child. So much of our beliefs about parenting is governed by social constructs. How would parenting styles differ if we thought of babies as already equipped with a moral center, full of goodness and mercy? I know this sounds a bit preachy, but really, how would we parent differently? Would it change how we prioritize our schedules during the day? Alter educational standards? Give a new approach to discipline?
Let’s have a conversation, with other parents, about how parenting methods might change if our first thought is that babies are smart, nice and loving creatures and not budding sociopaths in need of parental toughness. Share your thoughts here or post on Facebook and Twitter.