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American Exceptionalism

At what age do emotionally and cognitively unimpaired children generally learn that they are not uniquely central to the events that occur in the world, that they occupy a position of moral and practical equivalence to other children, and that their long-term happiness and satisfaction depends on recognizing these facts?

Comments

  1. gingerest says

    Mitt Romney and George W. Bush are in their mid-sixties, so I’d say it’s not developmentally necessary. For some people, anyway.

  2. EarlyToBed says

    um…46?

    Seriously, I don’t think this developmental milestone is a one-shot deal. Kids learn the basics of empathy early–preschool to kindergarten. As they become socialized, empathy and related sense of “I’m not the only kid at the center of the world” becomes more developed.

    I agree with other posters that some people never develop this, or only partially. And many of us forget, occasionally.

  3. James says

    I can’t answer the whole question but Kathryn Schultz’s book Wrongology makes reference to a study showing that kids start to understand that reality and your perception aren’t the same thing around age 4.

    A consequence of this, presumably, is realising that other people exist independently of your observation of them.

    I imagine empathy develops around the same age, since it depends on understanding that other people are separate entities with their own thoughts and feelings.

    Understanding that you’re not inherently better than everyone else probably doesn’t have a fixed milestone age, based on the number of people who never seem to get there.

  4. lorn says

    If the child has enough separation, usually in the form of people who will keep this rude fact at arms distance and accommodate their every whim, they are protected from he hard knocks that let the child know that the sun doesn’t shine out their ass.

    Of course, if you read Ayn Rand, and have a predilection to seeing yourself as the center of the world, you might be delusional enough to believe that ‘going Galt’ would bring the nation to its knees. Even as none of these egotistical maniacs has the balls to try it, for they tacitly know that the world would get along quite well without them even as they are psychologically dependent upon validation of their self-assumed superiority to maintain their self-image.

    This is why the Masters of the Universe are so very sensitive to any criticism. Wealth and power are simply not enough. They need validation and crave veneration and worship. When Ayn Rand no longer had a steady following of worshipful idiots to buck up her self-image she faded. Forced to go Galt she ended up alone but for her maid and on Social Security.

    It is not clear if she died a self-centered and egotistical child or grew up and finally understood that she was special, just like everyone else.

  5. says

    At what age do emotionally and cognitively unimpaired children generally learn that they are not uniquely central to the events that occur in the world, that they occupy a position of moral and practical equivalence to other children, and that their long-term happiness and satisfaction depends on recognizing these facts?

    I’ve been reading a book by Alfie Kohn recently about the problems inherent in a rewards vs punishment system for parenting.

    He points out that children raised with rewards or punishments for behaviors learn that things only matter because of the effect it has on them personally. They learn that throwing rocks is wrong because they will get caught and punished, not because it hurts other people. They learn generosity is good because they get a cookie or a head pat for it, not because of the effect it has on other people. Rewards or punishment is virtually the only parenting advice available in the mainstream. It is the only system discussed in 99% of parenting books and magazines, the only controversy is about the methods and extent of rewarding or punishing based on behaviors (spanking vs time out, approval vs money, etc).

    I don’t want to derail the discussion too hard, but I wanted to point out that we, as a culture, completely discourage actually thinking about ourselves as parts of a community. It is hard to say how early thinking of others happens when it isn’t at all encouraged (parents tell kids to think of what they did wrong when they are being punished, but almost no kid does, they think about how unfair the punishment is). Then there are libertarians, who carry on this man-as-an-island delusion their entire lives. It seems like it is an understanding that is sparked randomly and grows all on its own at various points in time depending on how it is nurtured, making it a lot like any other kind of learning. Some people never learn at all.

  6. says

    If the child has enough separation, usually in the form of people who will keep this rude fact at arms distance and accommodate their every whim, they are protected from he hard knocks that let the child know that the sun doesn’t shine out their ass.

    what hard knocks specifically are you referring to?

  7. Ysanne says

    Hard knocks that a lot of kids are sheltered from (not excepting mine at times — bites me when I notice):
    * Kid being required to wait for their turn — noticed how standard it is that kids (especially ones w/o siblings) feel they’re entitled to interrupt any conversation whenever they feel they want people pay attention to _them_?
    * Kid experiencing the horror of other people’s wants and needs being considered and balanced against theirs.
    * Kid being required to make amends beyond a half-assed begged-for “sorry” when they do someone wrong.

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