“Children and adults need each other’s talents and skills and stores of wisdom equally if each is to develop to the full.” — Christopher Phillips, PhD, THE PHILOSOPHY OF CHILDING: Unlocking Creativity, Curiosity, and Reason through the Wisdom of Our Youngest
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The term ‘childing’ first arrived on the scene around 1250 A.D. Collins American dictionary defines it as: “bearing a cluster of newer blossoms around an older blossom.”
Such a rendering, if applied to the human condition, would indicate that there is no shedding of the old as we add the new, but a continual super-adding of the new to the old.
If that’s so, then we need to do all we can to make sure each and every one of us, at every age and stage of life, can unfold in the most optimal ways. Only then can we cultivate and harness throughout our lives our unique capacities for empathy, reason, curiosity, creativity, exploration.
Christopher Phillips’ ‘philosophy of childing’ takes a radically different approach to the traditional boundaries between childhood and adulthood. It asserts that, rather than lapse into adulthood, we can achieve what the Greeks of old called arête—all-around excellence—when we adults look to children and youth as a lodestar for our own development.
The fact is that never before has our culture been as child-centric as it is today — and yet, never before has childhood been as strained and pinched. Its seren- dipity and spontaneity is fast disappearing in our heavily vocationalized, over-scheduled culture. Kids are expected to be adults-in-training and to be thinking about college by the time they’re in third grade. To the extent that we’ve bought into this hyper-utilitarian notion of childhood, we not only do tremendous damage to kids, but to ourselves as well, severely constricting our possibilities for being all that we can be.
If Chris, the founder of the global Socrates Cafe initiative, could boil his philosophy of childing to one sentence, it’s this: Children and adults need each other’s talents and skills equally if each is to develop to the full. As one for-instance, check out his Youtube dialogues with our youngest, not to mention his Facebook page (this one too).
Given that premise, here’s the case made in his latest book:
— We must start looking at adulthood not so much as the end of certain incapacities and deficits, but as the beginning of a new set that differs from those of childhood. Adults lack in distinctive qualities, virtues, and skills that children have in abundance — and vice versa. All the more reason for adults to reach out to and cooperate with those who are younger, so all can flourish fully.
— In order to see further in matters of human prospering, we must stand on the shoulders of our youngest.
— The beautiful minds of our children and youth think in a brilliant array of colors, and their often-jarring and mind-bending insights can help us older folks see old conundrums in new lights.
— Children too often remained stymied at doing what they do best, and will continue to be, until we remove our blinders, face up to the fact that they have uncommon capacities, and as a result quit viewing them as a big bundle of deficits.
— Just as children are fragile in certain ways, and must be protected if they are to develop optimally, so are adults. Indeed, adults enter into social contracts and lots of other kinds of binding agreements to ensure they are protected from one another’s worst impulses. Humanistic advances are sporadic at best, while the constant is that adults make a mess of things, with children the ones who suffer the most as a result. Children do need to be protected, yes, but mostly from the tragic blunderings of adults.
— We need new stage theories. When it comes to human flourishing, none of the stage theories invented so far comes close to circumscribing our growth and development. They are overly constricted, distorted, based on the conviction that human growth and development is progressive in bent—or at least, an uphill climb before there is any downhill slide—and that if and as we successfully pass through each stage, we augment our capacity to grasp ever more complex realms of experience. But as Karl Jaspers recognizes, adults “overlook the fact that children often possess gifts they lose as they grow up.” In contrast to adults, “the child still reacts spontaneously to the spontaneity of life; the child feels and sees and inquires into things which soon disappear from his vision.”
The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and one of the best examples that one can give of the all-important role of children and youth in helping see to it that we adults flourish is by sharing with examples of their insights in the Socrates Cafes and Philosophers’ Clubs around the globe. He offers many in The Philosophy of Childing: Unlocking Creativity, Curiosity and Reason through the Wisdom of Our Youngest, as well as in his previous noted works.