Researchers once took newborn monkeys from their mothers and raised them to maturity – away from other members of their species. These distant cousins of ours went stark, raving, mad. Upon rejoining their troop, they would fight, bite, and couldn’t even copulate normally.
Only humans could dream up this sort of experiment and what’s worse – visit equal cruelty upon their own children. Child psychologist Alice Miller has written much about early injury and its ramifications and repercussions.
Miller holds that neglect and abuse were at the core of Hitler’s psyche. (He among countless other monsters large and small) Crucially though, she also says that a child needs only to connect solidly with one healthy adult to avoid horror. Might not make it to Disneyland, but neither to the bunker at Berchtesgaden.
Perhaps the evolution of consciousness has thus far been skewed or uneven. The brain is one high powered organ out of the control of most owners. Lots of spare capacity. Lots of shooting stars bound to constellate. Painful episodes in early childhood might not easily be brought to later awareness, but will, at a minimum, inflect all succeeding years.
Likewise compassion. In The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, Edward Hallowell MD writes: “There’s a lot you can do to promote happiness, and there’s a lot you can do to retard it as well… Unconditional love is the best inoculation you will ever get, and what does it inoculate against – despair”.
Either way, remember, it gets hardwired in courtesy of neuronal selection. And just like any other wire bundle, it is so much sweeter to get it right on the first go.
Pop Quiz: What does “Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child” mean to you?