“It may have had survival advantage in caveman days, but now it threatens to destroy us all.”
– Stephen Hawkings
(The following post Stephen Hawkings: Aggression Could Destroy Us by Nick Clark recently appeared on independent.co.uk. To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)
Aggression is the human race’s biggest failing and it “threatens to destroy us all”, Stephen Hawking has said, urging people to be more empathetic.
Professor Hawking spoke at the Science Museum while giving a tour to Californian Adaeze Uyanwah, who beat 10,000 international entrants to win a special trip to London, in which he is shown the sights by celebrity guides.
“The human failing I would most like to correct is aggression,” the astrophysicist said. “It may have had survival advantage in caveman days, to get more food, territory or a partner with whom to reproduce, but now it threatens to destroy us all.”
The human quality the scientist would most like to magnify was empathy. “It brings us together in a peaceful loving state.”
Professor Hawking is the subject of the film The Theory of Everything, in which he is played by Eddie Redmayne. He said he was pleased to provide his official synthesized voice to give Redmayne “a bit of a boost in his efforts to win an Oscar” and joked: “Unfortunately Eddie did not inherit my good looks.”
If you have siblings, you probably think that your parents liked one kid best — and you’re probably right. Scientists say the family pecking order does affect children, but not always in the way you might think.
The vast majority of parents do have favorite child, according to research — about 80 percent. But that number sounds pretty darned high. So I decided to ask some kids in my neighborhood in Bethesda, Md., what they think happens in their families.
David Lewis, who’s 10, is pretty sure there’s a favorite in his family. He just isn’t sure who it is. “It’s either my older brother, who actually does things correctly, though he might mess up here or there, or me, because I’m awesome.” His older sister gets to be the favorite sometimes, too.
“I think they love them equally,” says Malcom Gendleman, 9. But his brother Eli, 11, says that even though he knows he really isn’t being slighted, “Sometimes I still feel like it.”
What Eli said is important. It turns out that what matters most is not whether there is a favorite — it’s whether the kid thinks there is.
“And that’s the scary part,” according to Alex Jensen, a psychologist with Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, who studies family relationships. “It’s not just how you’re treating them; it’s how they perceive it.”
Jensen looked at how teenagers’ perception of favoritism affects their behavior. He found that the kids who thought they were getting less favored treatment were more likely to get into trouble, even if the parents were actually being fair.
“They were more likely to drink alcohol in the last year, to have used cigarettes,” Jensen says. And the teens were also more likely to have smoked marijuana or used harder drugs. “So it’s linked to some pretty serious stuff.”
And the more a child felt they were being shorted, the more risky behavior. Luckily for us parents, Jensen says there is a workaround.
In his study, he found that in families that were close-knit, with good relationships and not a lot of fighting, there was less effect from perceived inequality. “In families like that there’s really no link between kids’ perception and their behavior,” Jensen says.
So as long as you love and respect all your kids, Jensen says, the fact that you like one a wee bit more won’t matter.
Or you could try taking to heart the advice of my neighbor Malcolm: “Picking favorites, it kind of makes the other people who are not the favorite not feel as well — feel sad. That’s why parents should not pick favorites.”
An earlier version of this story ran in NPR’s Shots blog. This version ran on NPR’sMorning Edition.
(The following excerpt from It’s Okay To Use The Word “Hate” by Rebecca Jackson recently appeared on psychologytoday.com. To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)
Several years ago, I was dropping my daughter off at preschool when her teacher asked, “What did you do last night?” My daughter replied cheerfully, “We had vagina pizza!”
Clearly, my coffee had not fully kicked in, because I actually stood their grinning like an idiot for a full minute before the pure shock of her response hit me. VAGINA PIZZA?!?
I replayed the words in my mind, trying desperately to figure out exactly how the heck she came up with it. As a small mustache of sweat beads began to form on my upper lip, I screamed, “A giant pizza! A GIANT pizza!”
My daughter has long since outgrown that adorable lisp. She’s now six, and discovering that not all word choices get the intended reaction. Communication with kids is tricky business. It’s a life skill, yet one most individuals learn through a system of trial and error. I was visiting a Kindergarten class recently when I heard the following exchange between a 6-year-old little boy and his father during pickup. Let’s call the boy Aidan.
Aiden: Dad, I hate Josh! He’s mean!
Dad: You don’t hate Josh; don’t say that. We don’t use that word. And Josh is your best friend.
Aiden: [In tears] I do hate him! He’s mean and you don’t care!
When Did “Hate” Become a Curse Word?
The thing is, at that moment, Aiden was in pain and didn’t know how to describe how he felt. At that moment, he felt “hate,” and he was trying to have a conversation in which:
His feelings would be heard and understood.
He could get support.
He could be comforted.
Instead, he was shut down.
Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, LICSW, co-authored the book The Learning Habit (link is external) with me. Donaldson-Pressman, a communication expert, explains why parents react negatively to the word hate.
Some parents feel that words are magical, that the expression of negative ones will somehow be a gateway to the child performing bad actions. Actually, the converse is true. When children are allowed to talk about their negative feelings and process them with an understanding adult, they are far less likely to act them out. The very term “acting out” describes what people do when they either:
Don’t have the words to express how they are feeling, or they
Have the words, but aren’t allowed to say them
Of course we’re going to get a tightening feeling in our gut when our kids use an inappropriate word in public. I get that, I do. I know what it’s like. It was only a few months ago that I was standing at my daughter’s bus stop along with half a dozen other parents. It was a scorching hot week in mid-September, and I had just published my first book.
I stood there among all the other eager parents waiting for my daughter to bounce off the bus. Instead, she stomped off the bus and announced loudly, “I hate school and I hate homework!”
I live in small town and my new book—the one I was euphorically bragging about—is on homework and parenting. I suppose I could have been dismantled by her words, and for a moment, I felt a sting of embarrassment, but it was fleeting.
We started walking home side-by-side and I looked at her—her sweaty hair and her big backpack and thought, this kid must be burning up. I replied, “It’s SO hot.”
That was it. That was the response she needed to hear. She told me all about how hot she was in school, and how nauseated she felt on the bus. We made a plan to do nothing for a while when we got home but lay on the floor in front of our loud, ugly air conditioner with our bare legs against the cool wall while eating Popsicles.
And we did, and it was silly and delightful and one of those perfectly obscure moments that I’ll carry in my heart forever. Embarrassing things happen; but I’d be heartbroken if my child felt I was mean and judgmental at the very moment when she needed me the most.
Portions of this article were reprinted from The Learning Habit by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, Rebecca Jackson, and Dr. Robert Pressman by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, Copyright © 2014 by Good Parent, Inc.