Child – Adult Dichotomy

It occurred to me recently that I seem to still be on the ‘wrong’ side of the child-adult  dichotomy.

Just beside my block of flats, there’s this huge, open longkang (drain). As I was walking out from my block one, I was just in time to see a wet soccer ball being rolled pass some children, as a small sized boy climbed over the green railing, coming out from the longkang after having retrieved the ball.

What I imagine a typical (Singaporean) adult would think; oh dear, how dangerous. and go on to imagine a million ways in which the scenario could have gone horribly wrong for the child, and a million ways to ‘rectify’ the problem like covering up the longkang, building more appropriate play/soccer areas, banning playing of balls at inappropriate areas etc.

What I thought, instead, was awww how fun and had fuzzy, nostalgic thoughts about the past, being in tuned with and a part of your environment, and how play should be unrestricted and unscripted. In contrast to the overprotective and sterile play environments of today…

Not to far from that longkang, just across the small street and in front of the supermart ShengSiong, there’s a huge raintree, growing out from a hole in the tiled ground. I love rain trees, I love looking up at its branches from underneath, I love the texture of its bark and the inevitable army of bird’s nest ferns adorning it. And I love that they’ve saved the tree, building around it instead of chopping it down.

More recently however, a circular metal bar has been built around it. A barrier, a separation. This is nature (it’s dangerous, don’t get too close) and this is civilisation. At least, that’s what it seemed to say to me.

I lamented to a friend– just imagine in our parents and grandparents days, kids played by running through fields of grass as tall as them; by climbing trees and any other structures they could climb; by catching spiders and making toy guns and catapults out of whatever they could find lying around.

If they step on a nail while running barefoot through the field, that was their own fault; of course if you’re going to be barefoot you have to watch where you put your feet! If branches or things fell from trees onto them then that was their fault too– well, also the tree’s, I guess, but what’s the use in blaming the tree? branches have to fall sometimes, it’s natural.

Whereas nowadays? People would demand that the management protect them from trees! from insects! from monkeys! It is the management’s fault when these things happen. No wonder the management has to cover their own asses and fence up trees… if a silly person climbs up the tree and gets hurt, it’s their fault. Why take the risk for the sake of caring about ideals and abstractions?

Then again, do I really disagree with that? Safety first, after all. If someone is killed by a falling branch, you wouldn’t dare to say to his family, ‘Branches fall, it’s natural! It’s no one’s fault, get over it.’

It’s hard to pin point exactly where necessary precaution transforms into suffocating over-protection. I thought our culture and education has been trying its best to move away from rigidity and sterility towards creativity and vibrancy…

True creativity and vibrancy can’t be categorized and classified– this is the time to be creative, when I say so during certain lessons, and these are all the other times you have to obey my rules exactly. Really? Think about it!

There’s this small playground in my school where each station is accompanied by a write ups with a science/physic slant. It’s usually filled with kids each recess, but of course, the kids ignore these write ups and ignore the ‘proper’ ways of playing.

The seesaw, meant for just two, is usually piled with kids–two groups challenging each other to see who can force the other group into the air. Otherwise, they will try to get off the seesaw as quickly and suddenly as possible to cause the friend(s) on the other end to come crashing down with a bang.

A ‘clown’s nose’– a red hemisphere surrounded by a ring on which you can sit– is meant for maximum four. You’re to lean your weight a certain way, and you can spin yourself. Instead, kids pile up again, with one or two trying to spin their friends as fast as possible, seeing who can last the longest without giving up or falling off.

Maybe something more serious happened one day than the usual harmless falls to the padded ground. Or maybe their children’s debatably rough play just came to the attention of the wrong (or right) person. Either way, one day a briefing was given to the entire school about the proper use of the stations in the play ground.

ONLY two on the seesaw, and DON’T bang your friend down. ONLY four on the clown’s nose and NO ONE should be pushing. THIS is the EXACT way and ONLY way you should be playing with these, and nothing else. Oh, one last thing, you are ONLY allowed there during recess WHEN THERE IS A TEACHER WATCHING AT ALL TIMES.

The next time I walked by the playground, it was practically empty and the few kids that were there looked pretty bored. I guess they’re ‘safe’ but that empty playground look for the world to be the saddest, least creative and least vibrant thing.

Can you blame the management, though? If something were to happen to the kid in school, how much noise (and blame) would the parents make…


Double-Edged Sword of Intelligence and Knowledge

One thing that has always bugged me about religion is the fact that many of the religious people I know are highly intelligent (much smarter than me), well read and well educated (more well read than me), really nice and generally very awesome people who seem to have their lives completely figured out. In other words, many of them were people I really admired and looked up to. Why and how did they believe? They’re intelligent, logical people. Plain ignorance or misguided thinking can’t be the reason. It seems much more likely that I’m the one missing something rather than them. What is it that they can see, that they can understand, that I can’t?

For that same reasons, on the flip side it’s comforting to me to read or hear of people– scientist, pastors, friends-who-are-awesome — deconverting; It’s an even stronger ‘case’ this way round: The religious whom I admire have maybe only ever been on that side of the fence. But people who deconvert- especially pastors, for example- would know the religious side really well! It couldn’t be that they are ‘missing something’, because they obviously knew it before. They must know something that those still religious are don’t.

It’s really tempting and intuitive to do that, pointing to authority figures to support your point. But it’s also lazy, and isn’t really proof of anything. It’s basically saying something akin to, “Look, even Albert Einstein thought so; are you so arrogant as to think you’re smart and know better than Albert Einstein?” Er, no, definitely not. But are you suggesting that Albert Einstein is correct about everything just because he’s smarter than you or me?

Just because someone smarter than you thinks so, doesn’t mean you accept his opinion uncritically; Don’t piggy-back on other people’s conclusions, do your own thinking and make your own conclusions.

That’s not to say we discredit or ignore all other conclusions, though. Obviously, we still do have to take other people’s more authoritative, expert views into account, because it’s undeniable that they know more than us. Considering their deeper understanding will undoubtedly give us insight. But don’t equate knowledge or experience with infallibility; They may know more than you, but they are as human, and as fallible, as you and I are.

I keep learning that… being incredibly smart doesn’t really mean anything. Being incredibly smart doesn’t mean you’re always right or always come to the best conclusions. It doesn’t mean you never make logic leaps or fallacies, doesn’t mean you can see all sides of the issue. Being incredibly smart in one way doesn’t mean you’re incredibly smart in all ways.

Similarly, being an incredibly loving and caring person doesn’t really mean anything either; It doesn’t mean you’ll never hurt another person.

People, all people, are only human. They do what they can, they do what they think is right.  No matter how incredibly smart, well-educated, earnest and serious they are, they don’t have any magic answers.

This article, The Ugly Delusions of the Educated Conservative, builds on this idea that knowledge doesn’t always equate to credibility, and brings it a step further: contrary to what we might think, more eduction, more intelligence and more knowledge can actually make it more likely for you to hold inaccurate beliefs.

Why? because the smarter, more well educated and more knowledgable you are, the more confidence you tend to have in your own position. Confidence is fine, but it has a nasty habit of stepping over the line into arrogance, if you’re not careful. And arrogance loathes to admit that it’s wrong, which means, if you were wrong to begin with, you’ll probably stay that way.

Education systems all over the world tend to focus on intelligence of the students, and the knowledge they’re being fed. But intelligence and knowledge are a double-edged sword; They can bring you far, but they can bring you far in any direction.

Perhaps what the emphasis should be on instead is Open-mindedness and Critical Thinking; the ability to listen to consider other positions and to evaluate them. Only then can you be sure that knowledge and intelligence are constantly being checked and put back on track rather than veering off on one mistaken tangent, never to return.

While the article refers specifically to conservative republicans and climate change, I feel that it fits the religious as well, or maybe even more so. Wouldn’t the religious commit this crime more readily, for is that not the foundation of faith? You always operate within the faith, the possibility that your faith may be wrong is not an option. If belief in god is held as the foundation, the unquestionable, infallible truth, then all other knowledge that comes in will be twisted to fit that. As with the Republicans in the article, it’s not the supporting reasons that hold up the belief, it’s the belief that shapes the supporting reasons. And that’s the reverse of what it should be.

That said, the crime of being a ‘smart idiot’ (as the author terms it) is one ANYONE can easily make, once they forget to remember that their own opinions may just be incorrect, once they close their minds to all other positions but their own.

Here’s to helping each other make sure we don’t fall into the trap of being smart idiots.