It’s not that people are dumber, it’s that stupidity used to be more painful.
(Author of quote unknown)
When I was about four years old, we stayed for a while with our Aunt Kay after father died. She had a mirror polished chrome electric percolator, and it sat in the middle of the table at every meal. She and mother drank a lot of coffee. My little sister and I used to sit there and make faces in our reflection, and one day my sister leaned too far forward, stuck her tongue out at the image and touched the hot pot. OUCH!!! She cried, screamed and fought as mother put an ice cube on her tongue and tried to comfort her. Eventually the pain went away, but the memory was permanent. Did she ever stick her tongue out at something she knew to be hot after that? Not that I know of. And neither did I.
Experience is the best teacher. Learning from the experience of others is even better, of course, but merely being TOLD such things is pretty useless unless a decent amount of actual experience has taught one the wisdom to listen and learn. Young children don’t learn well from lecture, usually, so the fact that both our aunt and mother told us endlessly that the pot was hot didn’t help much until we did have that experience. We might have easily had that touching it with our fingers, of course, but my sister has always done things the hard way.
I can hear people screaming that it would have been much better, then, not to keep the pot on the table! Remove the danger! Eliminate all threat, or as much as possible. And, of course they could have done so. But let’s look at this a little more…
Most of the children I knew had roller skates then. We had a lot of cracked, heaved sidewalks and uneven pavement, but enough smooth stuff to really enjoy the skates. The process of learning to enjoy the good parts almost inevitably involved doing dumb things and getting knees and elbows scraped up trying to negotiate the bumpy parts. We wore out a lot of shoes and jeans.
We climbed trees and fell out of them. We played baseball in the streets and dodged autos and motorcycles. We rode bicycles and had to negotiate traffic and avoid some nasty dogs. We raced insanely built crates with wheels (and no brakes) down a steep hill with a scummy pond at the bottom. We swam in the scummy pond, captured endless polliwogs, ate the berries that grew around it, and learned quickly the difference between ripe and green.
Mother bought raw milk from a neighbor who had a cow. We made butter from the cream off the top. I can’t remember anything that tasted so wonderful, unless it was the butter on home made bread toast afterwards.
When we got older, we hiked out into the woods and followed the animal trails, and some of the boys were given single shot .22 rifles to hunt with. I don’t remember anybody getting hurt with the guns, but if they did something stupid they lost that privilege very quickly until they learned better.
Some of the older boys (and maybe a few girls) ventured farther out and spent some time along the railroad tracks that ran on the outskirts of town. They put precious pennies on the track, and went back to retrieve them after the train flattened them. Sometimes the train would stop and the engineer would let the boys climb onto the engine and even ride a few hundred feet if he was feeling mellow and wasn’t behind schedule.
We walked to school, even several miles, and all over town to the shops, the cinema, the park and the museums. It was a small town, so we didn’t have much to choose from, but I spent a good part of each summer and many weekends in the beautiful county library that had once been a gracious home. I adored the librarian, at least some because she did not try to limit me to the “children’s” section. I read about six grade levels beyond my years and it was torture to be limited to “Dick and Jane.”
It was a learning environment that has probably never been equaled. I don’t know just when people started to think that wasn’t important… Actually, I don’t believe most people thought about it that way at all. At some point they were railroaded into thinking only about “safety,” and gradually most of those things became forbidden or banned. Along with a lot of other things, of course.
Was it dangerous to be a child then? We had plenty of scrapes and cuts, bruises and even a few broken bones. I don’t remember any children dying, but I’m sure there were some. Good parents knew that children needed to experience life, risks and all. They knew that everyone had to be responsible for themselves. Parents who did not understand this usually raised spoiled brats who never understood personal responsibility. I suspect that’s were most of the politicians came from.
Is it less dangerous to be a child now? You tell me.