Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Art of Argument

"Man does not have a soul. He is a soul. He has a body" --CS. Lewis

Children and adults live in different worlds. That is to say, children see, and process, the world very differently from adults. Their minds are still developing, and the ability to reason has yet to become ascendant. Their world lies more simply in what I want, and what I don't want. (Many adults also share this propensity) This often gives them an unfair advantage in dealing with the grown-up's world. The child, untrained in the art of formal argument, none-the-less learns he must deal with grown-up requests, and will not be enticed to step up to the more rational process of the adult argument. He will every time demand that the adult down-shift to his world, where he will attempt to annihilate said adult's argument.

He doesn't do this consciously, of course, but has tried this method before and has learned it has a chance of success. He also doesn't understand the adult world of reason, and therefore isn't interested. He has more important things to do. Like destroying his younger brother's train set. Or swinging the cat by the tail, unaware of the maelstrom about to ensue.

In play, children will often tune the grown-up out, and off, if possible. They need to do this because they have their own sense of life's continuum, entirely selfish though it may be. They act and play in the moment. Their natural senses (sight, smell, touch, etc.) are still developing. Their sense of place within the family is still developing. They are totally reliant on the grown-ups for just about everything. This is often a source of irritation to them, because there is really nothing they can do about it. So they learn strategies, trying and discarding those that don't seem to work, keeping those gambits which are successful.

Children need compelling reasons to comply with adult requests. They need compelling reasons because the adult is asking the child to do something which they: 1. don't want to do, 2. reject, because the request conflicts with what they want to do, or 3. they are just plain cranky. Children, unlike adults, have nothing to lose by going to the mat with you. They will hang tough, especially if the odds favor them, like in the super-market check-out line, or in the public library.

The child must be convinced he needs to obey. Obedience on his part is not a given, and the adult who misunderstands this, and resorts to an over-whelming show of force, or threat of force, will pay in spades. A child understands force, and the result is that the amount of force necessary will also get ratcheted-up. Then there is often, if not tragedy, then much unhappiness in that family. Adults must learn how to make compelling arguments without resorting to physical or even violent means. The same rule of ratcheting-up applies to the use of threats to intimidate children, and they quickly learn to disregard idle threats. Understanding is the key.

Any child can destroy an adult who does not understand the art of argument (from the child's point of view) by simply asking "Why", at the end of three reasons given him in support of your argument. Most children know this instinctively:

"Eat your oatmeal."


"It's good for you."


(here the usual grown-up, sensing himself in familiar and dangerous shoals, tries to mentally pin down his 4-year old opponent with grown-up logic...)

"You need to eat your oatmeal because...

(here the child, armed already with his argument stopper (Why?) mentally tunes out the grown-up)

" need to start your day with a good breakfast, and the doctor said you should", the adult adds, hopefully.


At this point the argument is over.

In fairness to children, they also ask why, why, why, when they really are trying to understand, the same as an adult will, when looking up on a cloudless, moonless night, at the stars and galaxies, and constellations. Why is the universe? Why am I here? Who am I? All questions related to Being, beside which nothing really matters.

For years, copying other people, I tried to know myself.
From within, I couldn't decide what to do.
Unable to see, I heard my name being called.
Then I walked outside. - Rumi
Adults lose arguments because the child is still waiting to be given a compelling reason to comply. Now, mothers learned a long time ago, that the most compelling argument is simply, "Because I said so." Men, for some reason, are slow to pick up on this most useful tactic, preferring to try to pull the child up onto a higher plane of reasonableness. When that fails, bribery may follow, with the effect that, if the child accedes to this development, he will again try to ratchet-up the ante. He knows he is in a process of negotiating, and will try for the best deal he can get. Adults often lose sight of this, and get annoyed.

Many adults are not comfortable in the child's world. Some adults can't deal with it at all. Most of us somehow managed, or are managing, to cope with raising a child. We manage because we must, and because we love our children, as life itself. At the end of the day, we just do the best that we can.

In this process of parenting, our children learn from us what we value, and they learn what sentiments to value. In order to teach them true sentiment, true emotions, adults who most successfully do this find a way to show the child from the inside of an emotion, rather than from the outside. We must tend to the children and teach them what true emotions are, and distinguish them from feelings, which are transient.

In the words of C.S. Lewis:
The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful. In the [Plato] Republic, the well-nurtured youth is one 'who would see most clearly whatever was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature, and with a just distaste would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of gentle heart. All this before he is of an age to reason; so that when Reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hands in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her.'
I once asked my teacher, "Why disgust? I mean, as a true emotion, couldn't it be shown as something else, something not so negative?" My teacher replied by quoting from the Ramayana, "Sita said, 'Beside Rama, all men disgust me'." Then I understood that we must have examples to understand and to hold fast to the true emotions. Love, anger, hatred, disgust, compassion, are true sentiments we need to teach our children. Before some agent of the State, standing outside the scope of compassion, teaches them that it is all relative, nothing is honorable, and that nowhere is a just man holding all the world's pain.

In olden times, when myths and traditions were held as sacred in the minds and hearts of the people, children were taught how to come to terms with God, nature and their fellow man. They were taught the sacred prayers so that their hearts were full, and their minds clear in the holy light of the earth. They walked the path of righteousness.

These ways are no longer available to us, because man has rejected them. We must now live our lives, mostly in isolation, and it behooves us to teach our little ones, demonstrate to them what values to hold, and we must also teach them, because the schools cannot, that life holds more promise in a drop of rainwater, than in all the philosophers' books. Look deeper, beyond the surface. Every man, woman and child has within a purity which has been covered over.
"Real life hasn't begun yet."
"Jack, you'd better be right."
---- Shadowlands (the movie)
Many parents are afraid to take on this role today. Afraid they lack the tools, or the conviction. Fear not. Shakespeare said: "Assume a virtue, if you have it not."

If you lack patience, give patience - practice patience, and you will become more patient. If you feel you lack a generous nature, practice generosity. Give that which you feel you lack, and you will become that. And your children are watching, learning from you. You grow together as a family. You don't have to be a perfect teacher, a perfect parent- no one is. Your children are watching, and they trust you. Ain't that beautiful? And scary, too.

Trackposted to Pass the Torch , Sweet|Salty,Sisu, Dr Sanity
Perri Nelson's Website, Blog @, Diary of the Mad Pigeon, third world county, Stuck On Stupid, Planck's Constant, Leaning Straight Up, The Amboy Times, Dumb Ox Daily News, Right Voices, and The Yankee Sailor, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.