by Hanna Vock
Rheinauenpark in Bonn, snow, sunshine, children sledging. It hardly ever snows in Bonn, so today the children are thrilled to be sledging down the many slopes and hills of different heights and inclinations all over the park.
I didn’t bring a sledge so I’m just watching the children for a while. A gifted eleven-year-old is accompanying me on my stroll.
Then my delight in the children’s enjoyment is darkened by a shadow. On one of the slopes in the park I see a number of parents watching their children quite visibly and recognizably ride their sledges down the snow-covered flower beds of the park. Great parts have already been levelled by the sledges. Is that necessary? No, there is another slope just as good and no more than 50 meters off to the side which has no flower beds at all.
So I’m addressing one father and a mother standing a little further off in a friendly tone.
“Excuse me, you may not have noticed …, there are flower beds down there; the gardeners have had their effort planting the pansies for next spring. Maybe your children could use another slope?”
The mother, close enough to overhear everything, isn’t reacting, she isn’t getting involved at any later point in the conversation either.
The father is irritated: “So what? The children have their right to have some fun, too, don’t they?”
I’m staying friendly: “Absolutely, but that wasn’t my point. The other day I was here with my grandson and we had all kinds of fun on a slope near here.
You see, there are quite a few slopes without flower beds at the bottom, right over there, 50 meters from here, for example, and over there, too. However, right here the flower beds are being destroyed, and they are there for everybody’s enjoyment. And then it’s also a waste of our tax money when the flower beds have to be done all over in spring.”
Replies he maliciously: “Oh, that’s what it is. Your enjoyment. And the money. That’s of course much more important than the children’s having some fun!” And turns away.
Next to me is still the gifted boy. He has followed the dialogue and now gives me his evaluation and analysis.
“I think this man is stupid and lazy … and he’s a coward. The woman is acting as if it was all none of her business, that’s cowardice, too.”
“Why do you think, he is stupid?”
”He is stupid, because he didn’t understand a thing. He thought, you didn’t care about the children’s having some fun. He thinks, you were putting your enjoyment of the flowers over the children’s fun. He also thinks, you think money is more important than children having some fun. He thinks you’re a killjoy. And the truth is, you would be sledging yourself if you had brought a sledge, you wouldn’t only be standing there watching. You simply wouldn’t run down the flower beds.
No, I don’t believe, he understood anything. He could have said >Oh, I wasn’t aware of that< or >Oh, really, how stupid, I guess, we’ll just look for another place.<
If he reacted that way, that would be ok.”
“And why would you think, he’s is lazy?”
“He is too lazy to explain to his kid why they should be going to some other place. And he is too lazy to walk 100 meters to a slope without flower beds. He is too lazy to even think and imagine the consequences of his child sledging down the flower beds. Later on he’ll complain about the taxes rising.”
“And why do you consider him a coward?”
“He can’t admit to his mistake, neither before himself nor before you. That’s cowardice in thinking.”
“And what do you think about that woman not saying a word?”
“That can be really depressing, when people act as if it were all none of their business and just keep doing what they’re doing, just like that.”
“So? Are you depressed?”
“Oh well, there are so many people just like these. It’s not just the flower beds, it’s everything. That’s why I personally don’t believe, the earth can be saved. It may well be that everything will be destroyed in my lifetime. Sometimes I’m really afraid what that’s going to be like…, I’m definitely not having any children later in life, because for them it’s doubtlessly going down the drain.”
“Is there anything you can do about it?”
“Save the world or something? No, there isn’t. Nobody can do anything. I’ll just have to live with it, I guess. It would be good to have some quick-acting poison to take when time is up.”
(The boy has agreed to the publication of our conversation.)
The Question and an Attempt to Answer
Is the boy getting a little carried away with the conclusions he draws from the situation, or is he not? Given, it is no capital crime to level a bed of pansies with your sledge. But that is not what has prompted this boy to offer such a precise analysis.
He is seeing the thoughtlessness, fuzziness of thinking and indifference of adults. And it is not the first time he is seeing it. His assessment is: a great many adults show stupid behaviour in the most different situations. He has experienced and observed this many times before.
When did he start wondering about it? I asked him. He said:
“That was in kindergarten. We had this stupid nurse. She kept saying, >this and that is the rule, and it’s very important that you go by it<, but when she didn’t feel like doing anything or going anywhere she said, >yeah – right, you just mind your own business.< And if I said, >but isn’t that the rule?<, she said >yeah – right, don’t act up like that. You’re not the policeman around here.<”
My young conversational partner regards this widely spread thoughtlessness, the fuzziness of thinking and the indifference as responsible for the pending downfall of human civilization. These character traits scare him, and when facing them he feels deserted and helpless.
He needs encouragement by people who do make mistakes but who are able to understand they made a mistake and then admit it (see above: “If he reacted that way, that would be ok.”) – by people whom, on the whole, he doesn’t consider to be thoughtless, fuzzy or indifferent. These people arrive at similar conclusions as does he, which will relieve him of his sense of loneliness when he gets a chance to talk about it. They can tell him how they deal with it which may help him to live with the stupidity of the world and not despair of it (and consider suicide by self-poisoning).
They could help him see that there are also many adults, who come up with smart concepts, who try to implement them and that this is true for all domains of human civilization as for example in some areas of science. To work with these people and have a standing among them may become a positive goal in life and moderate fears.
This points to a heightened engagement by parents to encourage their gifted children and to an individual support of gifted children and teenagers. They should be engaged in serious and seminal projects.
A good example of this can be found in the book “Zeit der Geparden” [Time of the Cheetahs] on pages 29 – 36. (To the knowledge of the translater there is as of yet no English edition of this book.)
The Breaking of a Taboo
Gifted children frequently break a taboo: They consider some adults to be stupid. Sometimes they will say so, too, and set off reactions which point to a strong taboo.
Oftentimes it is even considered inadequate if one child thinks another child stupid – but adults are not to be assessed by them in this manner, never.
May a child consider an adult to be stupid? And it’s another question whether, and if yes, how a child should express this in front of an adult; a child should in any case be raised to have some discretion and avoid any unnecessary affront.
It is, however, a fact that gifted children will from an early age on analyze and evaluate the utterances and actions of adults. This is just part of their intense urge to think in order to understand the world. Especially socially gifted children will observe minutely how adults act and they will form their own opinion about it.
Of course they can be mistaken or draw premature conclusions, just like we adults will sometimes do. Yet, at a closer look their evaluations appear surprisingly precise and substantiated. The scene described above is a good example.
If children again and again experience that adults think illogically, that they don’t see correlations or get them mixed up, that they don’t grasp the complexity of a given problem, that they say one thing and do another, that they are terribly uninformed and don’t want to be informed, then this will render psychological effects in the gifted children. These may not be entirely avoidable, but this must be born in mind when working with these children.
It is also important to honestly ask oneself: How well do I, as a kindergarten teacher, deal with it if a child points to a mistake I have made? Am I afraid of being considered stupid by a child? What would that mean to me?
Quite a few gifted teenagers have told me that they had internally struggled with their experiences, that for the longest time they had wanted to believe adults disposed of the same mental capacities they themselves had at their command. For some of them it was a long and painful (and lonely) process to ultimately realize that this is not so. The above mentioned taboo has its part in such a development.
It is vital to take the thinking processes of gifted children seriously when they are dealing with an understanding of their social surroundings.
It is important to break the taboo – and at the same time to face up to the educative demand for respect, discretion and restraint. If a child is directly affected by and suffers from the stupid ideas or concepts of adults (be it in the family, in kindergarten, at school or anywhere else) this child should find support. At least the child’s impressions should be discussed freely, disregarding the taboo, and – if the arguments are convincing – the child should know that one agrees.
Thinking should be free of constraints; only then (with regard to behaviour) come considerations of discretion and respectfulness or even tactical conduct towards the mighty.
Date of publication in German: 3rd of March, 2010
Copyright © Hanna Vock 2006, see Imprint.