The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The need for greater empathy

Empathy is a much underestimated quality. It is not first on the list of most parents when they speak of what they desire in their children, yet I think it should be.

Parents often seem to want intelligent, beautiful, healthy, happy, creative children...but who among them asks for an empathetic child? I think the world would be a much better place if this quality were more prized.

Empathy has great power. An empathetic child will feel the pain of others around them - will reach out to help them, to comfort, nurture and cherish them. An empathetic child will grow to be a warm hearted person who blesses all they meet with a supportive presence. An empathetic child does not grow up to be a criminal; does not wound or hurt others; does not behave in an anti-social manner. An empathetic child understands well the impact they have on others around them and would never do anything, consciously, to harm another. Empathy is the one quality, that for certain, leads to a better world. Intelligence can be a positive or negative force. Hitler was pretty intelligent, and Stalin too - but it lead neither of them to a place of goodness. Had both been empathetic European history would have been a very different affair. Empathy is a preventer of wars, a guardian against crime, a bringer of happiness. None of the other qualities that I have mentioned: intelligence, creativity, beauty, health and happiness - necessarily has any of its power.

Yesterday, I wrote of Tiarnan's empathetic reaching out to a tree. Now, that might seem funny - but to a fifteen month old toddler, seeing the tree standing alone and immobile in a field, it must have seemed that the tree needed comfort. It was an act of empathy, to reach out to it, and hug it. In that single act, we see that Tiarnan has an empathetic nature - that he is built to care. Tiarnan should, if this act is as diagnostic of an empathetic nature, as it seems to be, grow to be a warm, nurturing, caring and supportive individual. Whatever else he may be - whatever else of the qualities parents normally seek, that he may transpire to possess, I think that number one among those qualities is the inner kindness and thoughtfulness that led him to hug and comfort what, to him, was a lonely tree.

I rather feel that, among the many other things he will no doubt be, Tiarnan will turn out to be, quite simply, a great friend to have. That's empathy.

(If you would like to read more of Tiarnan, sixteen months, or his gifted brothers, Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and six months, or Fintan, three, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children, in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:08 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What of the child that feels so deeply that when someone else is hurting he actually feels the pain within himself. That the grief of the world is felt within his young heart and soul? I often wonder if that child might begin to shut down that part of himself and curl up within and never look out again. I often wonder if some of our brightest children understand so much about the world's grief and ills that they cannot process it all. I think it is somewhat idealistic to say that our empathetic, empathic children will then never hurt anyone else emotionally. I think that I have seen within my own brilliant son that he sometimes hurts other's feelings to protect his own fragile soul.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You paint a portrait of a sensitive child. You are lucky to have such a one: they can be very beautiful to know.

I feel that, if your son is hurting others to protect himself then he has not completed his social development (which is understandable). When he gets to the stage that he considers beforehand how the other might feel if he does such and such, he will, if he is a sensitive empathetic type, most probably refrain from doing so.

One can be empathetic and sensitive - but maturity is another element too, which plays a role in the child's behaviour and choices. That will change over time as he matures into the wonderful adult he looks set to be.

I hope he doesn't learn to shut himself down. That would be a pity.

Good luck on raising him.

Best wishes.

12:45 AM  

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