Human beings all begin their lives in a state of dependence. They need to learn how to speak, how to trust, how to negotiate a world that isn’t always friendly. They need an environment in which the background is secure enough for them to take the necessary risks of learning ”“ where they know that there are some relationships that don’t depend on getting things right, but are just unconditional. The human family as a personal not just a biological unit is the indispensable foundation for all this. And a culture, especially a working culture, that consistently undermines the family is going to be one that leaves everyone more vulnerable and thus more fearful and defensive ”“ potentially violent in some circumstances, or turning the violence inwards in depression in other circumstances. In the last couple of years alone, research has proliferated on the long-term damage done by the absence of emotional security in early childhood and the need for a child’s personal growth to be anchored in the presence of stable adult relationships. The Children’s Society Good Childhood document laid all this out with some force back in February and there is more material being published this autumn in the same area. An atmosphere of anxious and driven adult lives, a casual attitude to adult relationships, and the ways in which some employers continue to reward family-hostile patterns of working will all continue to create more confused, emotionally vulnerable or deprived young people. If we’re looking for new criteria for economic decisions, we might start here and ask about the impact of any such decision on family life and the welfare of the young.
I also mentioned people’s imaginative lives. We are not only dependent creatures, we are also beings who take in more than we can easily process from the world around; we know more than we realise, and that helps us to become self-questioning persons, who are always aware that things could be different. We learn this as children through fantasy and play, we keep it alive as adults through all sorts of ‘unproductive’ activity, from sport to poetry to cookery or dancing or mathematical physics. It is the extra things that make us human; simply meeting what we think are our material needs, making a living, is not uniquely human, just a more complicated version of ants in the anthill.
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