Development of body and mind: crucial for either the creation of an autonomous or dependent individual
In Ernest Becker’s book entitled “The Birth and Death of Meaning “, Becker begins chapter 5 with a highly disturbing but equally insightful quote from Thomas Treherne with these words “It is not our parents’ loins, so much as our parents’ lives, that enthrals and blinds us” (Becker, 1971). The study of social psychology explained this phenomenon by looking into the role of the human mind and body in human development. In fact, because of these factors parents are able to enthral (to bind, to hold, or reduce to slavery) their children. Yet, paradoxically, it is both quite possible and impossible for parents to create autonomy in their children.
As already been known, humans are different from animals in the sense that they have developed into a non-instinctual being, that is, they do not rely anymore in their instincts in how to respond to their environment or to an external stimuli. Instead, human beings have to rely on their mind, in their capacity to think and reflect in order to survive. However, it must be understood that a human being still lives in a human body and that man’s capacity to think does not develop immediately after his birth ; therefore, these body still plays a role in the development of human being as a social animal (Social Psychology in Sociological Perspective; Unit 4 “Socialization: Shaping Mind and Body” ). These goes without saying that both mind and body plays an active role in determining how a person will become, that is how he thinks, acts and forms his opinions.
The animals who live by instincts can already survive in the world right after or a few months after they are born. It is because instinctive acts or behaviors are already programmed in their bodies so that they can readily handle the dangers and challenges of the world on their own. Unfortunately, this is not true with human infants. According to Becker, infants who are born to this world are practically “helpless, dependent animal matter” (Becker, 1971). Since they have no programmed instincts for survival, they must now rely on outside sources, primarily the parents, for their learning (Unit 4 “Socialization: Shaping Mind and Body”).
The “helplessness” and “dependence” of the child makes him needy for close bodily attachment with his parents, specifically the mother. The child recognizes that his “little” troubles are appeased with the warmth embrace of his mother (Becker, 1971). Yet soon enough the mother had seen it fit that for the sake of the child’s safety, the child must be able to interact on his own with his environment and to recognize what are dangerous for him. He must understand that he should not go near a fire or that he should not play near the stairs or else he will fall. The mother then creates frustration and anxiety for the child. Creating frustrations meant blocking what the child was doing. For example, the child was not allowed to crawl uninterruptedly towards a fire which results to frustration for the child. On the other hand, anxiety of course refers to man’s responses to danger. The child understands what danger meant for even though man loses his animal instincts, he retains his animal anxiety and response to fear (Unit 4 “ Socialization: Shaping Mind and Body). A child’s greatest fear is “solitude’, to be abandoned (Becker, 1971). The child therefore, do not want to be frustrated and anxious. Meanwhile, since childhood is a pre-symbolic, pre-conceptual stage, the mother uses operant learning (body conditioning) in shaping the behavior of the child for survival. In operant learning, parents use reinforcement and punishment to dictate the behavior of their child. For example, a child learned that when he does a certain thing, his frustration and anxiety vanished as the mother rewards him. Furthermore, he learns that he now had to act a certain way in order to be cooed or gain extra attention. This kind of training is dangerous for a child, however, when it is initiated early. It is because the mind is not use here, but that learning is used by directly conditioning the body without relying on the mind or symbolic processes. As a result, children often do not understand why they are complying with the wishes of their parents, they do it simply to earn praise and avoid trouble. This is a human situation that gave proof to the fact that the human body can be conditioned for a certain behavior without involving the mind, that is, the mind is not consciously involve in the development of a behavior towards socialization. This led therefore to the conclusion that human beings are vulnerable to behavior control without their knowledge and consent. Since parents are the direct external contact of the child, they are therefore the ones who are responsible for imposing such “mindless” social learning on their children. Not only is this imposition possible only in pre-symbolic stage but that it can also be applied when symbolic skills are still elementary (Unit 4 “Socialization: Shaping Mind and Body”). Such “mindless” imposition inevitably lead to parent’s enthrallment or enslavement of their children. That is, when their children act in ways that they like, they give them praise and make them feel good. But when their children acts in ways that are opposite to their liking, they make them feel bad. The children for their part comply because of their emotional attachment to their parents and their identification with them. The truth of the matter is that this is a type of training where guilt exerts a profound influence. The children are motivated to obey because of their blind loyalty to their parents, the desire to please them, yet they cannot explain why they are so committed to do so. This unexplainable predicament can be made understandable by looking into how this premature, guilt based training implanted an unreflective ( at least the child is not yet able to reflect on it yet ) and uncritical worldview, based on feelings, to the child , making him a prisoner of his conscience yet he does not know why he has that sense of right and wrong . This unidentifiable sense of right and wrong makes him constantly guilty which retards his capacity to author his own destiny. Instead, he may constantly re-enact the past and shift whatever responsibility to the parents. And what is worse is that these feelings, this enslavement of children to the wishes and ill training of the parents, tends to be durable and resistant to change as they are imbedded in a human body without a conscious counterpart in the mind (Unit 4”Socialization: Shaping Mind and Body”).
Nevertheless, it is clear however that it is possible for parents to create autonomy to their children. That is, children learn autonomy, or grow up to be persons who are responsible and able to charter their own destiny apart from the dictates of their parents if they are trained not based on guilt but on shame. As stated earlier, guilt is achieved when a child learns through body conditioning only while shame is achieved when both body and mind are utilized together for learning. This is what is being referred to as full funding, that is, both mind and body are recognized as both useful for human development and that each is not isolated from each other. Shame culture ( training where shame is used) , like guilt culture, expects children to comply or obey the wishes of the parents with the uses of reinforcement and punishment especially with regards to issues of safety yet in shame culture the children are afforded with greater opportunities for trial and error learning. Moreover, moral training is delayed until the age of reason, that is the time when children are already capable of symbolic learning which enabled them to understand the meaning and need of why things are permitted or not( Unit 4”Socialization: Mind and Body”). According to symbolic interactionists, symbolic learning, or the ability to give meaning and interpret symbols (which is prerequisite for reflective thinking) with the aid of the mind is important since only at that time wherein learning becomes meaningful (Charon, 2007). That is, how can a child know that a certain act is wrong unless he knows what is meant by wrong or how can a person distinguish a shameful and not shameful act unless he knows what shame is? That is why when the child learns rules or behaviors with a conscious understanding of their symbolic meaning he then becomes capable of re-examining his behavior in a healthy manner in the future. Instead of being confined to the wishes , personal views or perceptions of his parents he finds , as an adult, that he has many alternatives by which to address his situation and may find it necessary( and able to do so successfully ) to adjust or change his behavior as the situation requires. And if ever he finds himself committing mistakes or transgression he can easily modify his behavior since his behavior is not unconsciously imbedded in his body ( Unit 4 “ Socialization : Shaping mind and body). What is important is that he is not driven by blind guilt which is a hindrance to autonomy.
Yet while it is possible for parents to create autonomy in their children at the same time, it is impossible for them to create autonomy for them. This may sound contradictory but it must be understood that whoever the child becomes, whether he becomes an autonomous individual or an dependent one, depends on how he was trained by his parents during a time when he was helpless. In other words, the child had no say at the start of how he was going to be trained, that is he was not entitled to an autonomous decision to how his parents should raise him up, whether through guilt or shame.
As a conclusion, it is quite understandable now the importance of simultaneously utilizing both body and mind (shame culture) for the development of an autonomous and highly responsible individual. If man uses the body only, which is unavoidably the first to be utilized, especially in moral training, the child will end up a dependent adult who is enslave or enthralled by his parents because of guilt. How the child is raised however, remains to be the choice of the parents, therefore making it impossible for the child to exercise autonomy in this case.
Becker, Ernest. (1971). The Birth and Death of Meaning: An interdisciplinary perspective on the problem of man, 2nd ed. New York: The Free Press.
Charon, Joel M. (2007). Symbolic interactionism: an introduction, an interpretation, Integration, 9th Ed. Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.
Social Psychology in Sociological Perspective
Unit 4 Socialization: Shaping Mind and Body