It’s official, babies are born with empathy. It’s not an add-on. Paul Bloom of Yale University in Connecticut, after carrying out a series of studies of babies, argues that a sense of morality is hard-wired, although it can subsequently be either enhanced or degraded according to experience.
This is not new information, it has been shown before, and it makes absolute sense, how could it not be so? Primitive humans depended on empathy – the ability to imagine another’s feelings and desire to help them – because man or woman could not survive alone in the wild (although it’s easier now, what with Facebook and everything). Back in those days we needed to help each other in order to carry on living, and those who didn’t keep to the reciprocal rules died out, along with their genes.
Primitive peoples did not have the time to teach their children kindness, empathy and moral values, they were too busy trying not to die. Plus they didn’t know they had to.
These findings have been disputed, but only by the Number One exponent of Neurosexism, psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, so we can ignore him, because he also thinks men are hard-wired to do maths and run companies and women are hard-wired to lovingly support them in doing their equations and running their businesses. I suggest that whenever you hear a comment from Simon (and you hear a lot because he is always the ‘expert’ who is trotted out), just imagine he is actually his brother, Sasha Baron-Cohen, of Ali G and Borat fame. That always works for me.
It’s ironic that the man who spouts the ‘Women have innate empathy’ line more than anyone else on the planet, states ‘Proving innateness requires much harder evidence’ in this case, which I assume is because males being born with innate empathy too would upset his whole world order.
I’m not finished with him yet. If babies are born with an innate moral compass, it also takes away a large part of the ‘job’ we parents (read: mothers) have to do to civilize our little wretches, and that would mean maybe we’d have more time to do things like take part in running the world.
Back to parenting. You can see that babies have innate empathy because of the way they look concerned and reach out to another baby crying, and how, if you are upset or unhappy, they get upset and unhappy too. Unless your baby shows no response to other people at all, you can rest assured that he has been born with a normal complete brain which is not missing vital bits.
So the way we are encouraged to praise to high heaven every slight act of kindness or helpfulness from our child, actually works against her brain, not with it. It gives her the idea that being kind and helpful is not natural, it’s something very special. Children don’t need to be ‘taught’ empathy; they need a witness rather than a teacher. Just noticing and being pleased about your child’s behaviour is enough if you want to allow her innate warm fuzzy feelings to continue to be the motivation to do it again.
Just think about how much you would praise your partner for doing the dishes, and go with that.