“We embarrass ourselves into banality”

Earlier this week I compared Jay and Wally to the indefatigable honey badger. That post was picked up by a father who keeps a blog called Letters to Noah.  He took my point in a nice direction .

In his view, the unwillingness of toddlers to conform to social norms is an essential part of what makes them such dynamic learners: by never being afraid to get something wrong, they give themselves a lot of trial-and-error opportunities to get it right.  This echoes the point I made in in October in “Jay: my cognitive inferior for now at least,” where I wrote “I think Jay’s biggest advantage, though, is that he rarely doubts his ability to learn something.”  Here’s what Letters to Noah had to say:

On a related note, one of the big points being made in the Diane Rehm interview [on language, music, and the brain] was that children tend to be better at learning languages not because their brains are necessarily more plastic or because they are more open to it, but because they don’t understand the idea of self-censoring. They have no switch that tells them, “you’re doing this wrong, you look like a moron,” and so they are very willing to keep playing the same 3 chords completely incorrectly until they click. They are willing to try new languages and pronounce things completely incorrectly, and they don’t worry if they’re not hyperpolyglots in a matter of months. It’s fascinating to me that one of the ways we shut down our own learning capabilities is by forcing ourselves to fit the norm we desire to show others – we embarrass ourselves into banality.

I think that has been one of the most fascinating parts about parenting – watching this little curious baby (you) interrogate EVERYTHING. Ask, in your own way, “what’s this? How does it taste? Can i bang it on something?” There is nothing that embarrasses you, slows you down, causes you to pause. There are not items too big to stick in your mouth, no windows too cold to lick, no amount of falling down that will stop you from climbing back up. There is little evident frustration, little anger, little worry. You just try.

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