You began your existence defying the odds. Your mother provided the egg. Your father provided the sperm. Your journey started at the instant of fertilization. Any other egg, any other sperm and you wouldn’t be here. Any mishap or failure to fertilize and you wouldn’t be here. Think about what happened in the past such that this one egg and this one sperm connected at this one instance in time. Each of your parents defied the same odds as did all their parents and so on back in time to the beginning of life. It’s been calculated that the odds are about one in 102,685,000 against you being born. You are a miracle.
Given what a miraculous creation you are, I say that you are the most unlikely, most precious being in the universe. Paradoxically so am I and so are the seven billion or so other people on our planet. We are all miracles, all the most precious and most unlikely beings.
I will start with the self-evident truth that you are a rational animal. My proof, not that proof is needed for self-evident truths, is that you are understanding what I’ve said with relative ease. I’m not saying that you agree or disagree with it, just that you understand it. Only a rational animal could do this. Just as miraculous is that we are born with this capacity for high level thinking. We humans depend on this rational mind for our survival. It’s our most important asset that we use to live and thrive. Every action that we take is thought out, not always correctly, not always wisely, not always consciously – but thought out.
Our survival is also dependent on our knowledge. Your first go at knowledge acquisition was learning how to speak. You learned your mother tongue from your mother. If you think about it, this too was a miracle. You couldn’t walk, you couldn’t care for yourself in any way, your mum had to nurse and spoon feed you, but somehow just by listening to her coo at you, you grasped what was going on and gave it back to her. How in bloody hell did you do that? You weren’t some parrot doing a “Polly wants a cracker” number. You knew what you were doing. Somehow you thought it all out and learned how to speak, your first miracle creation.
Without any formal training at all, you then went on to learn to speak in sentences. You became masterful in using nouns and verbs together, without having a clue what a noun or a verb was. Soon after that you began mastering concepts, again without knowing what a concept was. You learned the concept “red” and could distinguish ten shades of red from green or blue or yellow. You learned the concept “colour”. What you accomplished in the mastery of your language and concept formation skills was miraculous.
I want to underline something. This learning to speak takes place everywhere on the planet, every second of the day. Somewhere some new human being right now is mastering one of these skills, either speaking her first word, learning a new word or mastering a concept. This is all done with the skills that we are born with. How we do this perfectly integrates with the three principles of A Code of Honour.
Baby and the Code of Honour
- Do no harm: clearly the infant and adult are learning to speak with mutual pleasure. There is no bullying going on. Mum isn’t using any form of force on baby and baby is obviously engaged and captivated by what’s happening.
- Everything by agreement is going on with each word spoken. Mum is teaching the notion of agreement. The words that we learn to speak are words that the baby is implicitly agreeing with. When mum points to the family dog and says “dog”, she is following an agreement that we all made and honour that says “dog” is the word for the kind of an animal that we are pointing to.
- Be your word is also implicit in the learning process. Each of us agreed that “dog” was “dog” and not “apple” and we practiced being true to that agreement always. Such a good start to being our word. We learn so early that “dog” stays as “dog”. Mum saying “dinnertime” implies a promise.
Do we ever think about such things in this way? I’m saying that therein rests a power that is missing to us, the power that comes to each of us when we make something that we’ve learned be explicit and be brought into the light rather than be implicit and remain in the shadows.
Sometime around two years and nine months of age, you were ready to learn to read. At this stage we could take the sounds of the words we have learned and connect them to a written expression of the word. In English we use a phonetic approach to this, taking one or more of twenty-six letters and arranging them into a sequence that represents the word we are using. “d” plus “o” plus “g” make up the word “dog”. Again, the three principles of A Game of Honour are applied. Agreement has been undertaken word by word as we master reading. All this agreement is implicit, demonstrated by the ease in which we learn and demonstrate that we’ve mastered speaking, reading and then writing.
As an infant you aren’t ready to think about concepts like “agreement” or “acceptance” or “trust”. You simply take in what you are being told and believe it to be true. You can’t think of it this way yet, but you trust your parents to teach you the right words for everything in your universe. As toddlers, “trust” is inherent in our learning. It cannot occur to us to question what we are hearing or seeing. We are designed to listen and learn. We all start this way, with this mind that is tabula rasa.
Tabula rasa,: the idea that each of is born with a clean slate with no mental content, that we fill up our mind from experience and perception. We can neither trust nor distrust anything as toddlers because we haven’t learned this distinction yet. Skepticism will come much later. For these early days, our learning rule is simply, “If a grownup says it, it’s true”.
Ah, what to teach baby and what not to teach in the light of this observation. As Ignatius of Loyola is claimed to have said, “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.” Or to be more contemporary, “Give us a kid till she’s 7 and we’ll have her for life.”
Does it matter what we teach our children? More than anything! What we teach them is sacred.