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4.02.2011

The bane and blessing of humanity

Things are running smoothly this week and rather than get repititious, I thought I might dig deeper into my own thoughts about the human psyche and talk about something parents deal with every day in themselves and with their kids: self doubt.

I believe that all of human endeavor, motivation, achievement and actions can be traced to self-doubt. Da Vinci, Alexander the Great, Shakespeare, Bill Gates, and you and me. It is the essence of the 'human condition' and as such impacts how we think, feel, grow, and comprehend our world. It is the motivation of the bullied and the bully, it gives some strength and strips others of theirs. It pushes us to achieve greatness and throws us into the depths of depravity.

We are born knowing nothing and build on observation, experience, and heredity (not always in that order). The one thing we know is that we are someone, a separate individual, but have to learn what that means. During our first years there there is only one person: me. After that comes a recognition that the world really is bigger than 'me'. Third comes the understanding that there are other people who are as important as 'me' and should be treated as such.

Every step a long the way we face doubt. How important am I? How do I compare to them? Am I good or bad? Do others approve of me? A thousand questions and challenges chase us as we determine our place - all against a backdrop of doubt. For those who secumb to their doubts their lives can be filled with guilt or shame or lack of place. They allow others to control or manipulate them and feed off a small sense of self worth. At the other end of the spectrum, people who ignore or control their doubt live through ego and attempt to control the circumstances of their lives and the people in it. They feed on control to keep their doubt suppressed.

Most of us live somewhere in the middle. Doubt of self lives in us but doesn't control us nor push us to extremes. We are neither passive hand-wringers nor tyrants. The swing of the pendulum depends so much on how we interpret and act on our experiences through the prism of our doubts. We can all look back in our lives and find an example of a personal fear, from fear of dogs, fear of change, fear of loneliness, and see if we faced it or turned from it. That decision, big or small, still has impact on your life today.

This is why early childhood development is so important and so fragile in the hands of our parents. We can't control our children's heredity, nor the circumstances of our lives, but we can help them interpret and understand the world they experience so that they may develop a healthy sense of self worth and doubt.

Of course, this is a simplification of the issue, without reference or example. But if you consider life through your child's eyes, imagining the oversized world they face, unchecked doubts about who loves them, what will happen to them, where they fit in, and a host of other real fears can permanently scar or stop their emotional growth. I think this applies to whole societies, nations and cultures as well.