On sensitivity and toughness
Which is more valuable: to be sensitive or to be tough? I know what Singapore's answer to that question is: I heard it today, many times.
This morning I attended a talk, at Ainan's school, for parents. The underlying purpose of the talk was to tell parents how to "toughen up" their children. Everything about the talk, was directed to this end, of achieving tough little children. The speaker, who was an "expert on raising children", had the view that toughness was to be valued. His view had one merit: that a tough child would be more resilient in the face of disappointment or setback. In that sense, he had reason for his position - yet, I worried, as I heard him extol his techniques for generating toughness in children. There seemed to be something missing: the appreciation of sensitivity.
Sensitivity was a word noted only by its absence from his two hour talk. Not once did he mention the concept of sensitivity. Not once did he evaluate its use, value or purpose in the personality structure of a child. I found this lack really perturbing. You see, what is a sensitive child, but one that responds to the environment? What is a sensitive child but one who feels, and thinks, subtly and with freedom? A sensitive child may become an artist, or an actor, a writer - or a leader who feels for his or her people. A sensitive person can make a great boss, for they will feel for their workers and respond to them more warmly. Sensitivity is not something to be dismissed - yet it was ignored entirely. This Singaporean "expert on raising children", clearly did not value the human side of children at all. What he valued seemed very much like a worker who would put up with anything, without complaint. What he valued seemed very much like someone who would take endless abuse and just carry on. Perhaps that is what is really needed in the Singaporean system. Perhaps people without feeling or responsiveness, who just carry on ploddingly, no matter what are what is sought from education, here. Yet, I can't help but feel that such people would be incomplete: without a decent measure of sensitivity they will wholly fail to grasp the essence, truth and beauty of life, at all. Without some sensitivity such people will never truly live.
Every beautiful person I have ever met - and I mean beautiful on the inside, not the outside - has been a sensitive person, to some degree. None of them have been so tough as to fulfil the criteria sought by this speaker.
Resilience is important if a child is to grow up into an adult able to cope with the vicissitudes of life. However, that resilience must not come at the price of losing one's essential sensitivity. It is the latter quality that leads to a beautiful life. Toughness does not afford one a beautiful life - it only allows one to endure the suffering of an ugly one.
There is, I feel, too little concern for the human side of humanity, here. The attention is directed too much to creating efficient little workers who will fit nicely into the system without creating any perturbation - and will endure all the discomforts that come with a system that doesn't actually value the individual human being for themselves.
I would rather a sensitive child than a tough child. A sensitive child could be a great poet, a wonderful actor, an inspiring leader, a perceptive thinker, a lyrical writer, a profound musician. A tough child is unlikely to be any of these - though they are likely to endure in the face of much suffering and "succeed" eventually, in a conventional sense. Perhaps that is all that is wanted here, by the educational system: that the children "succeed" in a conventional sense. No wonder, then, that there is such a dearth of creative geniuses here. Why, you wonder? Well, you see, most great geniuses are, dare I say it...rather SENSITIVE!
With all this effort to knock the sensitivity out of children - indeed with special talks for just that purpose - it is no wonder that so little genius survives to flourish here.
What we need more of is: gentleness, sensitivity, kindness and consideration. Unfortunately, no more alien concepts could be tabled, than those four words, when set against what the system here, would like the children to show - and grow into.
Personally, I would rather a nation with a measurable sprinkling of sensitive geniuses - than an abundance of tough little workers. To create such a place, of course, would necessitate a complete change in the way the children are raised - and that's definitely never going to happen.
So, tough Singaporeans it is to be.
(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and seven months, and Tiarnan, two years exactly, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)