I had a strange dream last night. It feels like I was at a school for children. It was one of those dreams where you dont know how you ended up in that dream or what happened earlier. But in that dream, the part that stuck to me was the part when I was walking past a small kid who was with his friends. Than he turned to me as I walked past and told me,
“The Only Thing school is good for is learning to say ‘Thank-you’ and also ‘apologise’.
This statement obviously impacted me as I stopped in my track, turned to this small kid, and pondered what he just said. That was a very profound statement indeed. My first response was the conditioning nature of schools and most lare systems. It conditions and train people to respond in a certain way. Any system, especially the education system, is designed to create a habitual response in children in terms of how the child relates to teachers and later on how this translates to his/her relationship with the authority. And this habitual response is so pervasive that it has a conditioning effect that might bypass critical thought and freedom of choice.
The small kid in my dream was profoundly highlighting the only 2 response truly expected of children; to either say ‘Thank-You’ or to ‘Apologise’. It disheartened me to hear these and it made me extrapolate this to other systems in my life. I realised that it could be applied to any system that has a top-down relationship with me.
And in ‘apologising’ or saying ‘thank-you’ we are gifting these positions to others, most likely someone who wields a certain influence in our lives. Many people won’t really bother saying ‘thank-you’ or ‘apologising’ to someone who doesn’t matter in their life. We are a rather transactionary culture and this pervasive paradigm is seen by a child in the educational system and later on in every other system, whether it be Religion, Judicial, Employment among many others. In fact, one can say that this expectation of either an apology or a thank-you is central to the above four systems already mentioned. In religion, its all that is expected of you.
My question is how much do we exercise ‘critical-thinking’ when it comes to these situations which necessitates either an apology or a thank-you, or are we even given a choice to develop that critical thinking so as to come to our own conclusion, and than given the right to exercise. Or does the child/us don’t have a choice, we immediately are expected to say either thank-you or apologise, bypassing the critical thinking foundation necessary to become human being with good judgment? What is good judgment or is good judgment simply the ability to quickly learn social norms and internalise it and formalise it in our everyday behaviour without considering even whether it is a good philosophy in the first place. We need to take a step back, stop and realise how pervasive this expectation really is. It doesn’t have to be literally an apology or a thank-you. But in that, there seems to always be an element of it of sorts.
What struck me is that it almost seems that we carry forward the relational dynamics we used to have as a child with our parents into the adult world and how larger systems relate to us. So in that sense, is it than fair to say that most of these systems infantilise us, refusing to let us grow by keeping us stuck at the level of children by relating to us in this way? So that in essence, we never really leave childhood behind because we are still in one, no matter how old we are. And when we are old enough, perhaps as parents and later grandparents, do we than become the gatekeepers of this mindless response by also conditioning our kids to do the same?
It’s seriously worth a thought and this dream also reminds me of an earlier posting on the best article I ever read ‘On Punishment’. Both are inextricably interwined and is a pre/post of each other in causal relationship.