The celebrated English poet, William Wordsworth said, “The Child is the Father of Man.” Indeed, a seed of the oak or the banyan tree is tiny, but in a matter of years, it is transformed into a huge tree. Perhaps, the same is true of human beings.
Modern scientists are inclined to state that genes, or rather the X and Y chromosomes, are the real “Father” of Man. The genetic term includes both men and women.
As we are the inheritors of patriarchal system, our title appears to be male-dominated. Feminists would be fully justified in writing about the child being the mother of women!
However, at the conceptual level and in the world of ideas, both these superficially different topics amount to much the same thing. Hence, we would use the term “Man” to include members of both sexes.
The basic idea is that infancy quinte- essentially is part of a man’s life. The characteristics and propensities of the infant get crystallised and transformed into the personality and character of the same grown-up person.
The two factors that influence a child are genetic and environmental. While the process of conception is purely genetic, from a few weeks of that event the environmental factors come into play even as the fetus is still in the mother’s womb. These two factors have lasting impact on the personality of human being.
These two factors have spawned two different schools of thoughts whose proponents are eminent psychologists. Dr. Jenson of Stanford University in America believes in the theory of supremacy of the white race and is convinced that genetics is the factor of paramount importance.
However, Prof. Eysenck of London University believes that it is the environmental factors that influence a child and shape his future personality development. Rigorous research in the field continues, mainly based on statistical methods. Much to the disappointed of Dr. Jenson, it could not be conclusively proved that any one race is superior to any other.
Hence, we have to focus on environmental factors. In this context, the studies and observations of Dr. Sigmund Freud can be considered in some details. From his studies Dr. Freud theorised that early childhood lays the foundation and determines the course of a child’s personality development.
He postulated the various psychological states such as the oral state, the anal state and so on in a child’s development. He said that children who have difficulty in graduating out of any one state were more likely to develop psychological problems along the way.
An “orally fixated” person who had a problem at this Freudian state would tend to suck his fingers and may later smoke heavily. The whole theory of psychoanalysis focuses on the early childhood of a person. Freud believed that even the boy-child’s greater attachments to the mother and the girl- child’s to the father are an indication of the heterosexual attraction between the sexes in later life.
This gave way, Freud observed, after a period of time to boys emulating the father’s ways and the girls accepting mother as the role-model. This was reflected in the different kinds of games played by boys and girls—a distinction that would continue.
The Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote powerful psychological novels like Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.
The principal characters were usually lovers and introverts who lived in a world of their own. Because of their psychological isolation, they seemed to behave in a strange, even anti-social manner.
Dostoevsky was convinced that criminal or negative tendencies were present due to adverse environmental factors in childhood. He believed that if any bad deed were to be committed before a child, it would leave a lasting impression and may even plant the seeds of delinquency at a later stage.
Thus he advised that impressionable minds should be kept away from all vices, because any wrongdoing, even if witnessed accidentally, could lead to serious repercussions in the future.
The truth of this is borne out by the grim statistical evidence of countless adult misfits in society whose insecurity and instability stem from broken homes, and violent family lives.
A child needs a healthy environment to grow up in, as the values and qualities he imbibes in childhood go a long way towards shaping his personality subsequently.
From the parents and the family the school takes over. Almost all the educationists agree that the knowledge imparted to the child, the skills taught to him and the qualities instilled in him at school should have a bearing on his adult life.
Unfortunately, that does not happen every time, and the pressures of the modern-day education often produce adults incapable of fulfilling societal needs. Society too has a role to play in ensuring that the child is shown the right way.
Children do not run the country, serve the sick or cultivate crops. Adults take care of these jobs. But the child has the latent qualities to do all of these things and these must be quickened to life with a jostle or a nudge as required.
However, the word ‘latent’ will bring us back to square one. That this is the debate on “Nature Versus Nurture”. Education and environment do influence the course of an individual’s life but they cannot always alter his natural propensities. Tagore and Mazart gave plenty of indication of their promise in early childhood itself.
They were, of course, child prodigies, spurred on by heredity. But even among lesser mortals, natural inclinations and aptitudes do become manifest in childhood, sending out signals of what the future holds in store. Whether it is a special talent, a natural gift or even unpalatable “natural” tendencies to lie or steal, the clues are hidden in the childhood years.
One child has an exceptional sense of melody, another is a magician with the paintbrush, yet another takes apart and puts back his toy car in seconds. The musical child will not hit the concert stage just because he or she is tuneful—but with practice and training it’s a possibility. Even the child’s nature can give on almost accurate forecast about the future.
The generous child shares his toys and later his possessions, the tidy child puts away her toys and later picks up the clutter strewn over the house, and the child who assures captaincy of the street cricket team is likely to exhibit similar leadership qualities in future.
The ‘hoarder’ will first hoard his marbles and then his money. Environment and guidance can help the child to realise or overcome inherent predilections.
Throughout all this, we must remember that just because the child is the precursor to the man, we cannot simply press a fuel button to programme perfect adults. Nor can we afford to sit back and say “this child will lead and this child will follow”.
Through perseverance, tenacity and plain good sense we can recognise and bolster the child’s innate strengths, respect individual differences and teach him right and wrong.
There is a saying, “morning shows the day”, but in fact, it is not a foolproof method of weather forecasting.
Similarly, even if we accept that the child is the “Father of Man”, we can help him become a better patriarch with a little prompting. Only then can we sit back and say “you’ll be a man, my son!”