Friday, January 13, 2012

And what's it all about, anyway 3?

A Child's Innocence

Post Office where my father worked - Roscrea
I suppose, if there is one attribute of childhood that we wish to protect, it is that of its appropriate innocence.  Undoubtedly, there comes a time when innocence must be sloughed off in a timely and natural fashion akin to a snake its old skin.  However, every child, we believe needs its appropriate innocence protected, and when those barriers are breached by abusers of one form or another we are justifiably outraged and we punish the offenders in accordance to the severity of their crimes.

However, we live in a world that all too often forces children to leave behind their natural innocence all too soon.  Often, because of unsupervised access to media, children become sexualised before their time and their innocence can be lost.  As a teacher I have long believed that it is here that parents should and must play a more active and "hands on" role.  It is not the job of teachers to dictate to parents how to bring up their children.  With the decline in the influence of religion, which did/does set moral parameters, more parental moral education is required.

The Fragile Mind

I suggested in a recent post that one possible answer to who we are may be the formulation that we are a compendium of our memories.  Who we are is a question that has preoccupied humankind for as long as it has been self-conscious.  Indeed, it is our self-consciousness or self-awareness that marks us out from our fellow animals.  Not alone do we live, but we know that we live.  Not alone do we have experiences, but we can reflect on those experiences.  Not alone do we know, but we know that we know.  Indeed, not alone does humankind suffer but it knows that it suffers.  Indeed, we all know that we will inevitably suffer even if we are not suffering now at this moment in time.  As well as that, we are aware of our past and our future as well as our present.  We are also painfully aware that our dying and our death are inevitable.  Knowledge is a great thing indeed - it gives us a certain limited power over our destiny, and I use the adjective "limited" purposely here.  However, with knowledge also comes the price we pay for experience and wisdom, namely the knowledge of our own eventual personal extinction.

What the mind is has always interested every thinking person.  Our concern with our identity, that is with the question, "Who am I?" has long been a central concern for us human creatures.  In a sense our cultures in all their multiple layers of customs, traditions and values are attempts to help the human person identify themselves as groups primarily and secondarily as individuals.  Indeed the concept of individuality only came to the fore with and after the Enlightenment.  Before that the individual's identity was subsumed within that of the group.

In those last 300 or so years when humankind has turned its attention to the concerns of individual identity, it has invented the new sciences of psychology, sociology and psychiatry, among others, to try and pin down that identity somewhat more objectively.  The science of psychology, which takes its etymological roots from the Greek word "psyche" which means "mind," has attempted to define what "mind" means and indeed what "personality" is.  Questions of interest here are: What is the mind?  Is it the same as the personality?  Is it what the ancients understood as the soul?  Does it dwell solely in the brain?  Was Descartes right when he suggested that the mind was sort of a ghost within a machine (i.e., body) Does the mind cease to be when there is much brain damage?  Is there a sense in which the mind can be said to be more than co-extensive with the physical parameters of the brain?  Or a question, which hit me like a hammer over the head when I had a mental breakdown when I was 40 years of age - a topic I have discussed many times in these posts over the years, and have since called my mental break-through - Am I just a psychopharmacological or even a pharmapsychological entity or a mere biochemical substance as such - is that all my personality is?  After all, those psychopharmacological interventions at the time seemed to suggest that this is so?

The Fragile Mind of the Child

If an adult's mind, as I well know, can be so fragile, how much more so must that of a child be.  As a teacher I am constantly reminded of this when I interact with my students, some of whom come from very unstable home situations where mental health problems abound.  That their sensitive minds are formed or ill-formed by these genetic and indeed poor social circumstances is beyond doubt.  These children are often tormented souls in their own way. 

When I was about 3 or 4 years of age my father contracted poliomyelitis which necessitated his having to leave the small town of Roscrea where I was born and where I lived with my family until I was 6 years of age.  Without a doubt, I can say that the phenomenon of the absent father had a lasting effect on my life.  Thankfully, my father was not too badly paralysed, losing only the use of his left arm and hand.  There were many other victims of the polio epidemic both in England and Ireland who lost the use of their legs and even some ended up in the horrendous "iron lung" machines which enabled them to breathe and stay alive.  However, after some months in hospital he managed to get a job as a security man in the Central Post Office in Dublin. I can remember going with my mother and brothers to the local railway station to bid goodbye to my father after he had spent the odd weekend with us in the country and was on his way back to his job in the city.  For years after I always found railway stations to be very lonely and sad places.  I don't now, of course, because having long ago traced the origins of those feelings to their source led to their eradication.  But our young minds are sensitive and are formed and shaped by our experiences.

Being at Home

Main Street, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary where I was born
One of the most traumatic experiences in any one's life is to be made homeless.  There is nothing as sad and as depersonalising as being left without a home.  Home is more than just a roof over one's head.  It is more than just a place where one lives.  It is the place where your loved ones live with you.  It is also a place where one can feel safe and untroubled; safe and protected from the alien outside, and often hostile, world.  It is often a place to which most of us at some stage in our lives like to escape.  One of my favourite Romantic poets and philosophers is Samuel Taylor Coleridge who argued that the Enlightenment thinkers had "untenanted" creation of its God, a marvellously powerful metaphor.  In like manner the sociologist Peter Berger argued some two centuries later that the modern secularised mind of the middle twentieth century was one which he dared called "a homeless mind," one which was bereft of meaning, thrown out from home on to the meaningless streets of modernity.  He argued in a book of that name that the scared canopy of religion no longer offered the security of home to modern minds.  They were literally cut adrift on the modern sea of chaos and meaninglessness.

However, I believe that there is no little truth in Berger's contention here, but I also believe that we can use Berger's metaphor in another and more personal sense.  I believe that the truly integrated person (Dr Anthony Storr), the truly individuated human person (Dr. Carl Gustave Jung) or the truly self-actualized individual (Drs. Kurt Goldstein, Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow) is a person who is at home in his/her own mind.  I will repeat here what I said above about home: Home is more than just a roof over one's head. It is more than just a place where one lives. It is the place where your loved ones live with you. It is also a place where one can feel safe and untroubled; safe and protected from the alien outside, and often hostile, world. It is often a place to which most of us at some stage in our lives like to escape.   In like manner, I firmly believe that my mind can become my true home.  In a sense our loved ones also live therein.  It is also a place where we can feel safe and sound.  It is also a place where we can escape in the safety of our own imagination.  In  that sense, we can never be alone when we are truly at home in our own minds.  In that sense also, we can never be lonely when we travel, because quite simply we are always at home.

No comments: