The other night we went out to see Christmas lights. We drove through a couple neighborhoods that are known for having neighbors that try to one up each other. This leads to some very impressive displays.
One house had a sign in its front yard that said “Tune to 89.1”. The lights on the house were flickering faster than an Ibiza nightclub. But the flashing patterns looked random, until we tuned the radio to 89.1 FM. Suddenly, the sporadic light show made sense—the house was dancing to the Christmas tunes playing in our car. It was awesome.
Much of our experience works the same way, especially early in life. The father of modern psychology, William James, famously described a baby’s experience as “one great blooming, buzzing confusion.” An infant sees the lights and hears the sounds, but they lack context. It’s a bit like Christmas lights dancing without music. Without a model of the world, these experiences have no meaning.
As a parent, one of your main jobs is to provide these models for your kids. Some are simple, like explaining that red means ‘stop’ and green means ‘go.’ Others are more sensitive, like how you explain the man sleeping on the street corner. Your explanations and stories provide context to their blooming, buzzing confusion.
You are tuning your kids into the radio station of life. But in life, there is no single station of truth. And your kids trust you. So be mindful of the music you play.
– William James (1891). Principles of Psychology.
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