Does knowledge, knowing the unknown cast out fear? Scripture says in 1 John 4:18 says that perfect love does. Too many of us quote that without really knowing what perfect love actually means. How could we know it? The closest we can get to it is probably the love of our parents, which is far from perfect.
Since we can’t possibly come close to the perfection of divine Love without a sincere and unceasing striving to work on oneself, let’s speak of knowledge and how that could cast out fears. If we are to see God or the Absolute as having perfect love, then the source of all knowable phenomena could be One and the same.
There are certain instinctive fears rooted in the reptilian brain that most multi-cellular beings have, but this is not the kind of fear we’ll deal with today. Us human beings, are the only species known to exist in this planet with three brains: namely the reptilian or instinctive brain, the mammalian or limbic brain, and the neocortex. The last brain, being the least developed is responsible for the intellect, while the second brain is responsible for emotions. I like to imagine that fear of the unknown is like the second brain shuddering because the neocortex does not yet understand some things it either never experienced or experienced haphazardly, forming a very incomplete and discombobulated picture of reality.
However the problem of egoism, also unique to us, settles that fear down not by knowledge but by falsehoods. We pretend we know about something and talk to others as if we do. We even convince ourselves of that. Instead of saying how we learned about something or heard about it somewhere, we change our language to deceive others of having direct personal experience with the topic in question. Of course, hardly any of us really intend to do this, and certainly not consciously. Though it’s easier to just take credit or to have others assume we truly know. Many people whom we consider as intellectuals are really just informed people who have an above average capacity to hold and synthesize lots of information. That about also accurately describes a computer.
What are we then to make of human beings? What sets us apart? Emotions, you say? Animals have them, too. Rationality and logic? Perhaps, but what good is that if one cannot even control their passions, especially with a tongue that lies about what they know? Into what should be the golden years of human existence, the common intellectual may descend into madness talking to and being chased by imaginative characters all day, a la A Beautiful Mind. Of course, this doesn’t happen to all of them, but it’s certainly not uncommon.
Not too long ago in my adult years, I feared certain lifestyle and practices that were shared by both the common folk and the pagans. Being raised strictly Christian, it took me awhile to even get into alternative medicine. I was soon a borderline hippie, because I was searching for answers on health that were not provided to me. It took some suffering to branch out, particularly with yoga in my early adulthood. I feared the things that had the “appearance of evil,” so they say among the Christian community. What looked evil was never outlined and was often subjective and abstract. Attempts to inquire about such things for the sake of learning were met by dismissive or angry people wanting their complete censorship.
I feared what I yet did not know because I was told certain things, while having no experience of them. Once I did know about some of these things through personal experience, I only had to decide whether I wanted to continue partaking in them or not. Making a wise conclusion however might not have always been reached, but that direct experience gave me the impressions I needed that didn’t otherwise exist before. My judgment had at least some ground to stand on.
A lot of our adult misery and hostility towards others can be described as partly having little to no knowledge. Knowledge about the world, about others, and primarily, ourselves can help alleviate fear of our surroundings, different people, and our future. The kind of knowledge that is experiential in all three centers: the instinctive, emotional, and intellectual, and backed by Conscience, is not so easy to come by being products of years and years of maleducation. We are simply stuck in our ways and damn proud of it. We’ve arrested our own development and passed that down to our children. We want them to be smart asses just like we are, because we want them to make us look good and make everybody else look not as good. It’s a complete mess.
Acquiring Knowledge in Childhood
How does this all relate to childhood? What kind of maleducating did we go through to create such terrible conditions today? Although there are many things that could be said in this area, let’s go back to fearing the unknown, to knowledge casting out fear. To stuff a child’s brain with information is counter to the goal of experiential knowledge, yet we do this every day in our schools. For very young children, the foundation for all learning is through their senses. This is what they are born with, and this is how they take in information about the world in the most effective way. We have discouraged essential learning by placing them in front of screens a bit too much too soon, which dulls the senses. Some foods that are addictive and toys that are too stimulating also do the same thing.
Seeing screens and people with screens is unavoidable, and it is religious and not realistic to think that one can successfully parent shielding their child from seeing one pixel. That somehow seeing a cartoon segment or video game from the neighbor’s house will ruin your child in addiction forever. I myself have screen time for my child, but I make sure that it is not coming from a device that she can walk away with and use anytime and anywhere. It is shared, stationary, and limited. If media at all noticeably interferes with active play, daily life, being outdoors, or with people, it is shut off. I’ve seen it happen in our home, and we’ve managed to keep track of when it does. For some children, it might be best not to have screen time at all as a rule around the home or in the places they frequent. Going cold turkey helps in many situations, but it is not feasible for many families.
What can be easily incorporated into a child’s life is ample amounts of sensory learning. Help them be the experts of tomorrow by mastering their own bodies first. Let them play outside, get their hands dirty, get bruised and scraped, let them even taste the soil. Let them get bored if they’ve been over stimulated and see creativity blossom. Reading books cannot not even adequately replace what they could be experiencing in real life and playing out adventures. Though books are a wonderful resource, letters and pictures limit what the boundless imagination can come up with through the powerful use of oral storytelling and puppetry. Though these can be tedious for a parent who’s only used to reading, we could always use a creative challenge for our own self development.
What should develop naturally in a child’s movements and sensations can be impeded by the kind of “smart” technology and popular techniques we choose to override them. Having too safe environments isn’t really that smart for a child in the long run. It only creates a sense of security and convenience for us as the adults. Of course, there is a reasonable amount to this. Having a child in our care means that we take care of what their real needs are first in ways that can reasonably fit within our families’ culture and lifestyle. However, we are realizing that real needs are more than just food and shelter.
An example of a popular children’s apparatus that’s not beneficial are the walkers and jumpers marketed for babies not yet walking. They look so cute and happy in them, but we might just be erroneously speeding up a developmental stage that could have subtle or noticeable damaging effects through adulthood. Time after time, countless baby and toddler products are recalled due to mortality rates caused by them, yet we are always so eager to embrace a new product made by clever scientists promising to make our children “better.”
Routinely using walkers with babies for instance have been shown to shorten the calf muscles overtime by frequently activating the foot-tendon guard reflex. This signals the brain to release stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, priming the developing child to default to a fight-or-flight mode. That kind of response was naturally meant for momentary instances of danger. This may create a fearful child or conversely, a child that isn’t so keen on what’s actually dangerous. It also makes difficult having a sense of direction since we’ve discouraged the right and left brain from communicating, developed through the primal need to crawl.
In this example, we can see how speeding up or retarding developmental stages might misinform the child about the world. Because he or shes uses their own body primarily to know the world through experience, we’ve set them up to learn incorrectly. We may not realize that we create a picture of the world that is often isolating, cold, abstract, instead of warm, interconnected, and playful through the environments we routinely expose our children to, and the attitudes we have. We shut their minds off from really thinking.
A disposition to fear and the hormones it activates wire the child to primarily use its reptilian brain to survive, leaving little room for growth in the other two brains. This all starts in the womb but doesn’t end shortly after. We also make it hard for a child to comprehend being compassionate towards others different from ourselves when we prioritize learning not for the sake of their own well being but for competition. Reacting fearfully with little experience prohibits one from looking at things objectively and from making wise decisions.
“A disposition to fear and the hormones it activates wire the child to primarily use its reptilian brain to survive, leaving little room for growth in the other two brains.“
It seems that speeding up a developmental stage is a good thing in the eyes of competitive parents, but this egoism yet again has to be corrected in ourselves lest it harms future generations to no end. When we damage one, we damage all. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We are in this together as parents, caregivers, and educators in giving our children another shot at being normal. Let not our high brows raise themselves seeing children play in the mud and in the rain. We mustn’t think that what’s literally beneath our feet, the earth, is beneath our fine taste for classical learning. Everything has its proper place and time.
Young children mimic, so we mustn’t think that it’s a waste of our time to once in a while get out there in the dirt with them as well. Work with our hands with manual tools every so often, go on hikes, plant a garden. Even through adulthood, learning through our senses remains vitally important. We may not be able to control the world, but we can redirect our attention through our awareness of ourselves. Not having practiced this in childhood enough makes it a challenge for us adults to comprehend our environment.
Love from parents or caregivers certainly casts out fear in a child, but he or she must first know and feel this in their bones through contact. This knowledge is a necessary step to perhaps understanding what perfect love is.
“I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less “showily”. Let him come and go freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself… Teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences.”
– Annie Sullivan, Hellen Keller’s mentor