In one of the LinkedIn posts, a lady CEO had shared that her son who is in 9th standard could not trace his Physics book, just prior to the exams. His mother was in office whom the son was desperately trying to get in touch with. The lady who was busy in some urgent meeting did not notice his call due to some urgent preoccupation. The mother was quite worried about the pain her son went through for the three hours and had a great sense of guilt for not supporting her son during such trying circumstances.
What’s better for a child? Providing everything on the platter by eliminating all the uncertainties or learning by trial-and-error and figuring it out in life? The former may be good in the short-term but is it so in the long-term too?
Seema, a lady in her late 30s, once called me over phone (at her father’s behest) for career guidance. She has done her B.Com, MBA in HR as well as a few courses in computer programming. She has worked in top-notch software companies as a programmer and then in HR. She wanted advice about a career in corporate training. The only child of her parents, and from a well-to-do family background, having travelled widely across the globe, she was exploring options for her professional career growth.
Her father, BK is an eminent Marathi author of around 20 books and is an editor of a prestigious Marathi magazine which he ran for 25 odd years. He spent his childhood in a 450 sq feet house, with six family members and from a lower middle class background in Mumbai.
BK’s father was a dedicated worker for the Communist Party in 1950-70s with no regular fixed income. BK’s mother, a teacher in a municipal school, managed the household with her meagre salary. Once BK shared with me that his father hardly knew which class the children studied while the mother rarely interfered in the children’s studies.
BK went through challenging circumstances in his childhood as well as in his professional life. At 40, after achieving relative financial stability, he decided that he would not work henceforth only to earn a livelihood. Having detected a sense of purpose, BK decided that he would devote his life for the propagation of quality Marathi Literature. Some of his books include biographies of unknown but highly accomplished personalities. Seema having lived a comfortable childhood and adult life vis-à-vis her father, still is not able to detect a purpose of life at a corresponding age.
BK was once saying, “Quite often, I come across youngsters from well-to-do families who insist that they need to have their personal space and a me-time. What do they really want? I never had such issues in my younger days; even at our 450 sq ft tenement, six people living together.”
As poet Dylan Thomas once said, ‘There is one thing that is worse than having an unhappy childhood and that is having too-happy a childhood.’
Does it mean that children from well-educated and cultured background do not succeed? Of course, they do, in terms of good qualifications, a decent job, high CTC etc. In short they ‘settle down in life’ as per the conventional standards of society.
Some of the factors for success or achievement depends on genetics/heredity, stable family background and also getting the right opportunity, aka luck.
Such children may join the best of the schools, the premium upmarket classes to get into the premium professional colleges. Does the best of the schooling make someone a genius? Lewis Terman from Stanford University and Leta Hollingworth from Columbia university refined the Binet scale to develop the IQ scale. They began identifying children who scored exceptionally well on this IQ tests and those who scored above 130 were identified as genius. Around 1500 students were mapped for their career growth. Most of them were from privileged backgrounds and achieved career and financial success. Dean Keith Simonton in his book Creative Genius terms such students as ‘gifted children.’
Out of these 1500 children there was one person in the group who did not qualify the high IQ types whose talent was overlooked who was William Shockley, the cocreator of transistor and the winner of Nobel in physics. (1)
Francis Galton in his 1869 classic Hereditary Genius defines genius in terms of ‘enduring reputation’. By this Galton meant the opinion of contemporaries revised by posterity. People who have changed the existing paradigms of knowledge, new concepts of social order or credited with pathbreaking inventions like Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Galileo, Marx, Freud, Mahatma Gandhi can be termed as genius by the above criterion. Incidentally none of them were exceptionally brilliant applying Terman’s yardstick.
Gifted children’s parents are well educated with at least one of them being professional like a doctor, lawyer, engineer, CA etc. They have intellectually stimulating environments like book collection, visiting museums, attending music concerts etc.
Social scientists have, however, found that very few gifted children could become geniuses. There are a number of factors beyond stable home, infrastructure and genetics which distinguish a creative genius from a conventionally brilliant person. One such factor is whether the person has faced any adversity.
Handicaps like physical or sensory disabilities helped them to reinvent themselves. Somerset Maugham, a renowned British writer used to stammer; Edison became almost deaf by 12. Aldous Huxley, the eminent writer of Brave New World, suffered from an eye infection which made him nearly blind. (2)
In case of adversities, the correlation of creativity with parents’ bereavement has attracted considerable attention of social scientists. In an ambitious study of 699 eminent persons, it was found that 45% of lost either or both the parents before 21 which include Boyle, Newton, Pascal, Priestly, Descartes, Russel, Sartre etc. (3) For creative writers, 55% of them had lost their parent before 15 and for the British Prime Ministers it was 63% (4)
Social scientists have postulated three hypothesis why adversities maketh a man:
- Bereavement Hypothesis: states the child gets into an act of achievement to overcome emotional trauma.
- Development of Robust Personality: states the child develops an inner strength to overcome obstacles. Satish Gujral was an eminent painter, sculptor, muralist and writer who was honoured with Padmavibhushan. As a child, while crossing a rickety bridge he slipped and fell into the rapids which resulted in impaired hearing for a major portion of his life. Once an interviewer asked him about the fountain of his creativity, he said, “ maybe that I need to prove my existence on a daily basis.”
- Divergence Development Hypothesis: Is the tendency to give up the well-trodden path and opt for the road less travelled. A person with a settled and a comfortable background has parents, close relative or a teacher for guidance. A person going through adversity or not-so-stable a home has to create a wider circle of influence which may include meeting strangers in trains/buses, a newspaper article, gatecrashing in a company looking out for a job etc. The urge to make new friends and acquaintances in an unknown city also rises with adversity. Apart from making one street-smart, it also helps in enhancing conventional and tacit knowledge.
Pandit Bhimsen Joshi when he was 10, left his home in search of a guru from his native place Gadag to different places. With monetary help from co-passengers in train, first he moved to Pune and for the next three years moved around in Gwalior, Lucknow, Delhi, Calcutta. After three years of struggle, Sawai Gandharwa took him as disciple in Dharwad. Similar stories are true for Naushad, Sudhir Phadke etc.
By providing a sanitized environment to our children not only in the physical sense but also on emotional and spiritual perspective; are we enabling for their growth or otherwise?
As Seneca said, ‘I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without any opponent. No one can ever know what you were capable of, not even you.’
1. Eyesenck H.J. (1995), The Natural History of Creativity
2. Goertzel M.G. et al (1978), Three Hundred Eminent Personalities
3. Dean Keith Simonton, Origins of Genius, Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity, p116 ( includes around 115 examples)
4. Berrington H, ( 1974) The fiery Chariot, Prime Ministers and the Search for Love, British Journal of Political Science 4, 345-69