It’s Election Day! We are all overwhelmed with news about the immediate present. Certainly the next two years of our nation’s life will be shaped by the election results. How about our own personal lives?
To some of my relatives, today’s politics don’t matter. Vera, 13 months old, and Leo, 10 months old, remain blissfully unaware of Democrats and Republicans, Congress and the President, who’s winning and who’s losing. They are in the middle of a uniquely human phase of life – extended childhood.
Humans develop very slowly. Humans are the slowest of animals to learn to walk: a newborn horse can walk within an hour after birth. My granddaughter has just learned to walk at one year and running will come much later. She can’t talk, although she can communicate many simple desires.
Human brains are much less developed at birth than the smaller brains of other animals, because the human birth canal is too narrow to allow fully developed big brains to pass through. Much of our brain development comes after birth, allowing us tremendous adult brain capacity, but requiring years of dependence on adults.
We make an enormous investment of time into the growth of our children. Observing my granddaughter and her parents day after day, I realize how important is patience to human life.
Years will pass before Vera and Leo are ready for school. Most human societies across the globe plan a dozen years of schooling before we assume that our young are ready to be self-sufficient. So-called advanced societies plan another 4 years or more of schooling to prepare for more complex professions. Years and years of slow development and preparation to become physically, mentally and psychologically ready to be adult humans.
We might say that humans develop at a snail’s pace, but some snails are sexually mature at 6 weeks old. Humans must develop skills far beyond what any other animals are capable of, such as speech. Both the complexity of human society and the biological nature of the human animal contribute to the long years of development. This slow maturation is uniquely human.
We make an enormous investment of time into the growth of our children. Observing my granddaughter and her parents day after day, I realize how important is patience to human life. Nothing seems to change from day to day. The same tasks and lessons are repeated countless times before they appear to have any effect. Negative lessons, like not touching hot things or pulling men’s beards, have to be repeated hundreds of times before they are learned. The whole process depends on unending patience.
It’s ironic that good parenting depends on patience, but our constant efforts to urge patience on our babies are useless. When they are hungry or tired, when they want to be picked up or put down, get out of their strollers or clothes, or generally do that thing that is inconvenient for adults, we say “Wait a minute. Have patience. Soon.” But the words are meaningless. Patience is the long game and babies can only think of now. Like other adult qualities, patience develops very slowly.
Patience is not just useful in dealing with children. It also helps us deal with the world’s problems. To build a better world for Vera and Leo and all of our babies, we must patiently find good solutions.
But patience has its limits. Sometimes patience is a code word for doing nothing. During the Civil Rights era, after centuries of white tyranny over black Americans, whites in power kept saying, “Not so fast. Patience.” In that case, reasonable patience had long ago run out.
Our children will face a difficult world, if we don’t take action now to counteract climate change. We have let the time for patience slip by. If we keep doing nothing, by the time that Vera and Leo are ready to have children of their own, rising seas will have inundated our coasts, storms of unprecedented power will have battered our homes, crops will fail around the world, people will die of the heat.
We need patience to raise the next generation of human beings. We need action to insure that their lives are as good as they can be.
Taking Back Our Lives