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Runtao on Family Education (0): To Survive, To Live, or To Pursue a Life
The Child Education Series, Part 0
by RunTao Yan
July 8, 2007
(For original Chinese text, see 《存活/生存/与生活—如何教育孩子》)
First of all, let us define the terms used in this essay.
To Survive: To prevent death in an unfavorable or harsh environment. An example of this would be: if you planted ten thousand cherry trees in a dry, rocky, hilly field and all but two trees died. In this example, the cherry trees’ survival rate is 1/5,000, or 0.02%. In the context of the Chinese people in the 20th century, survivors of the Tangshan Earthquake,1 or the Nanjing Massacre,2 or the Mao Era’s Purge of Five Black Categories,3 are considered the lucky few who defied their respective low survival rates.
To Live: To continue your life, often enduring various kinds of hardship along the way, even though the survival rate is rather high.
To Pursue a Life: To embrace and enjoy all aspects of human life, and pursue happiness beyond merely being alive.
In China today, most adults have the experience of competing for limited resources and opportunities just to live. Of these adults, many are actually the lucky few to have survived from the Great Chinese Famine.4 When it comes to teaching their children important lessons, these adults urge their children to develop skills to live. Few consider, however, other dimensions for their children, so they may be able to pursue a much happier life in the future.
To effectively teach a child to develop strong living skills, parents must be able to train the child to concentrate and focus.
Once the brain is able to concentrate, it becomes less aware of other things going on in the environment. To be aware is a state of mind that is conscious, but not concentrated, and is able to sense a broad range of other things. In contrast, being focused is to ignore everything but the focused subject, which also means narrowing a person’s mind.
Mind narrowing is a necessary condition to living, as we defined earlier.
It is hard for infants and toddlers to concentrate. Their minds are divergent, and their sensory organs are uncontrolled, yet capable of sensing all kinds of external stimuli. Nothing is precluded. They receive a wide range of input, and somehow, store them in their minds and passive memories. Their un-preconditioned minds are in a fluid state, constantly flowing and waving with their senses.
The cost of being successful:
Once a child’s mind is narrowed, he/she will become more sensitive to a particular subject, and much less sensitive to everything else. The narrower a child’s mind becomes, the more likely he/she will excel in that concentrated subject, and therefore, more likely to be regarded as “successful” (being admitted to an elite school, for example), or “talented” (becoming a star athlete, for instance), and soon become an expert on something.
Nevertheless, the whole story then becomes: the more you know about one subject, the less conscious you are about everything else.
The reason for “little pleasure when merely living:”
Merely living requires a narrow mind. A narrow-minded person must leave much
of his/her brain idle for long periods of time. This lack of use may in turn cause permanent loss of that part of the brain’s great potential. By not representing this unrealized potential, this unexploited power, or unchartered journey, a large part of the brain will remain unconscious and permanently wasted.
Oftentimes, a “genius” in a specific field, tends not to enjoy many pleasures other ordinary people normally enjoy.
Purely judged from the cost-and-benefit perspective, such a talent is merely a mechanical component of society, or a robot without sense of enjoyment. In contrast, a normal human being should be able to enjoy happiness in his/her life.
This happiness is only if he/she has tapped parts of the brain that are not dedicated to his/her living skills. To conclude, such “successful” people will have wasted much of their brain potential, or brainpower, since they narrowed their minds too much, too early.
The University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) established the “School of the Gifted Young (SGY),” in 1978.1 It is known to produce robots that are extremely narrow-minded, are strongly living-skilled, and hardly know what life is all about. The term, “strongly living-skilled,” really means they can beat others in college entrance exams. In China, not being able to get admitted into college means no living skills, no future, failure, and even trash in the eyes of the general mass.
Today, some of the SGY graduates have become Buddhist monks, hiding in deep woods. Many others have developed additional capabilities and have become not-so-talented ordinary individuals. They are able to pursue and enjoy a normal life. As of now, however, SGY has not produced a single Nobel Prize winner, despite the School’s high aim and its nationwide reputation.
Be aware of our brain’s potential power:
We should not regard our restricted brain power after years of narrowing as our entire brain power. The narrowing process may help one develop certain necessary living skills, but not all skills, to live a multifaceted life. In examining top talents in the world, those who have changed the trajectory of human history, must admit they hardly grew up through the mind-narrowing process.
Oftentimes, creativity is derived from brain parts that are commonly suppressed, or commonly unconscious. By tapping such unused or unconscious brain parts, It will make it possible to accomplish great achievements.
There are chemists who have won Nobel prizes in physics, and physicists who have won Nobel prizes in chemistry. These cross-discipline high achievements prove what I just explained.
We need to guide our children to appreciate a multifaceted life with enjoyment, rather than become a mere Money-making machine. As a matter of fact, as long as we do not force our children to narrow their minds, they should be able to grow up normally. This is easier and better than narrowing their minds first, and then training them to broaden their minds after they are grown up.
In today’s China, it is still in the era of competing for basic living, whereby its government proclaims, “the right to live is a basic human right.” However, it will not be too long when embracing and enjoying life becomes an integral part of living. A book smart person, without understanding other aspects of a normal life, will have a hard time to live. A person who only knows how to solve math problems and lacks interpersonal communication skills, may encounter difficulties or even struggle on the borderline between surviving and living during his/her entire life.
China has not produced top-level scientists or thinkers for a very long time. It is not because of the government’s low education budget, its restrictions on academic freedom, or its political system. Instead, it is largely because most Chinese parents force their children to have narrow minds from early childhood. This mind-narrowing process guarantees the young generation will grow up to become corrupt officials, fame-and-power grabbing maniacs, money slaves, thoughtless teachers, or mediocre computer program coders.
1 Tangshan Earthquake – It was a 7.6 scale earthquake that hit the region of Tangshan, Hebei Province, on July 28, 1976. In minutes, 85% of the buildings collapsed or rendered unusable. At least 242,000 people died (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1976_Tangshan_earthquake).
2 Nanjing Massacre – It was an episode of mass murder committed by Imperial Japanese troops against the residents of Nanjing, during a period of six weeks, starting on December 13, 1937. The number of murder victims is estimated to be over 200,000 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanjing_Massacre).
3 Purge of Five Black Categories – Killings, imprisonment, labor camps, and other forms of suppression and humiliation against landlords, rich farmers, counter-revolutionaries, bad elements, and rightists, during the early years of Mao regime (1949-1966). The number of casualties is estimated to be over 4,000,000 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Black_Categories; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_massacres_in_China#1949%E2%80%931966).
4 Great Chinese Famine – It happened during a period between 1959 and 1961, with an estimated death toll due to starvation that ranges between 15,000,000 and 55,000,000 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Chinese_Famine).
5 School of the Gifted Young (https://baike.baidu.com/item/%E4%B8%AD%E5%9B%BD%E7%A7%91%E5%AD%A6%E6%8A%80%E6%9C%AF%E5%A4%A7%E5%AD%A6%E5%B0%91%E5%B9%B4%E7%8F%AD/8221641?fromtitle=%E4%B8%AD%E5%9B%BD%E7%A7%91%E6%8A%80%E5%A4%A7%E5%AD%A6%E5%B0%91%E5%B9%B4%E7%8F%AD&fromid=6477575).