Introduction rather than guidance – terminology and concept of man


When it comes to parenting, we carry around centuries-old, historically rooted and culturally applied ideas. The author tackles this lore by dissecting it. And it formulates an Adlerian counter design that makes it possible to break with these traditions.

An old folk saying goes: "You can't teach an old dog new tricks"."Folk wisdom often has a kernel of truth. But if we wanted to subject this statement to an examination of the current state of science, we would first have to conclude that it cannot stand up to the accumulated findings of brain research: From innumerable scientific investigations and studies we know today that the brain is plastic up to the high age – and humans thus up to its life end capable of learning.1

Man, a learning being

Apart from the premise that man is capable of learning at all, the aforementioned idiom contains an empirically gained insight that is still valid today: Man develops – and what the adult has at his disposal has essentially to do with what he has learned during this development, especially during his childhood.

Hans did not come into the world as Hans, but as little Hans. However, to deduce from this context that Hans can categorically no longer learn what Hanschen has not learned would be a false conclusion.

But why does such a saying persist against better knowledge??

The phrase reflects a view of man and associated beliefs that are in the tradition of authoritarian education, but which disregard today's knowledge of human nature.

The tradition of the old image of man goes back a long way, but even into the modern sciences. From children as bullies, to an innate aggression instinct, to the original Roman saying that man is a wolf to man2 , one and the same idea runs through our cultural history like a red thread: the idea that there is something genuinely evil in man that must be driven out of him through appropriate education or at least contained by rules and laws.

From this idea derives the conviction that man must be educated to obedience – and this is best done at an early age, because the saying goes: "Wehret den Anfangen" ("Nip it in the bud")!" – that otherwise man will not cooperate, will become renitent, that he will go overboard or that his egoism will take free course.

Must we set limits for children?

In his book "The Fear of the Father, "3 the psychiatrist Morton Schatzmann impressively describes the devastating psychological consequences of authoritarian upbringing using the famous case of Schreber.

Schreber's father once had the 19. and early 20. Schreber published an educational guide that was considered a standard work in the nineteenth century, in which he propagated the relentless expulsion of wrong emotions in children in the first three years of life, with recourse to strictness and corporal punishment. The child will not remember it later, but henceforth one look is enough and the child will show obedience. Morton Schatzmann compiles text excerpts from the father's guidebook and juxtaposes them with the son's paranoid delusions, revealing frightening correspondences.

So while in earlier centuries there was talk of breaking the will of the child or even casting out the devil, today people like to talk about the need to set boundaries. However, the underlying image of man is not yet substantially questioned by this.

At this point at the latest, the problem of terminology arises.

Thus, the concept of leadership, due to its (perhaps not coincidental) proximity to military vocabulary and thus to the authoritarian principle, seems alienating or even misleading in the educational context. The term introduction would be preferable.

The human being – especially the human child – is virtually dependent on an appropriate introduction to communal living together, whereby the appropriateness is measured not only by the content but equally by the manner in which it is imparted.

The natural sociability of human nature

Already from the early studies of attachment research it is known that a sensitive, accepting and cooperative interaction of the caregivers with the newborn is of utmost importance for the development of a secure attachment. However, in order to initiate the appropriate development of his social nature, "the social predisposition of the newborn must first have 'appropriate' experiences with caring others. "4. In other words, the willingness to interact that is inherent in people and geared towards cooperation must be fostered.

This sometimes presupposes that the adults are able to interpret the signals of the infant or later of the toddler correctly. But on what basis should this interpretation be made? It will turn out differently if the educators are sure of the social nature of human beings and thus of their child5; if they are also sure that the child is completely focused on them as his caregivers,6 than if they believe that the child wants to provoke, test his limits or impose his will. For this certainty will help them to understand every behavior of the child as the effort and the best possible attempt, within the limits of its physical and psychological possibilities, to establish or maintain its psychobiological well-being7 – And for this well-being the attention of the parents is an essential condition.

The ability of the human being to cooperate

It is precisely here that false cultural ideas about human nature can have a devastating impact. One of the most demanding tasks, education, becomes much more difficult if the educators, already confronted with their own feelings, have to start from wrong theories.

For example, the young child does not simply seek boundaries, but resonance and a cooperative counterpart. Even superficially uncooperative behavior of the child can be quite cooperative against the background of his experiences. Because just as people learn the language of their caregivers from birth, they also learn to speak the social language of their environment.

The key here is what we as educators and as a community can teach the new member, what introduction we can provide so that he or she can learn to best navigate the communal, cooperative living together, contribute to it, and in this way feel a sense of belonging, connection, and being taken care of.

With this goal in mind, however, the unsuitability of "laissez-faire" parenting also becomes clear, as it does not meet the child's natural need for cooperative interaction any more than authoritarian parenting does.

Attachment research has powerfully demonstrated how the young child seeks affection, care, and protection from the very beginning of his or her life, how he or she simultaneously wants to learn curiously, explore, explore his or her physical world, and interact with his or her social environment.8 It requires an appropriate introduction and later benevolent guidance.

The importance of culture and the image of man

Our language, our concepts are emotionally coded.9 Thus, when we hear the word "leadership," cognitive-emotional concepts associated with it are activated.

We are not engaging in linguistic quibbling when we raise the question of the meaning or nonsense of a term such as leadership in education, but we are stimulating an ideological debate by asking about its background: It is not the concept of leadership per se that is at issue, but the image of humanity that it reflects. Thus, we ask the fundamental question of what conception of the human being we should base education on.

False cultural perceptions – and this includes false images of humanity – "run the risk of turning the social newborn into an antisocial, uncooperative, mentally impaired person who is not committed to society."10

Therefore, it is worthwhile to reflect once more on one of the most fundamental attitudes for communal living together and to cultivate a correspondingly sensitive handling of the language. Not to satisfy a stylistic claim, but to express clearly on the basis of which emotionally borne, ideological stance the discussion is to be conducted.

So what Hanschen learns has not only to do with what he is taught, but also how and with which emotional attitude we teach it to him. In this context, it is of crucial importance that we see and understand Hanschen correctly – as a being, that is, who is designed for cooperative interaction, which must be fostered.

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