I stumbled upon this post right after listening to Diane Rehm interview Gary Marcus and Michael Erard about learning new languages and how to play musical instruments and the brain science behind all of that. The author of the blog post writes about his son’s complete unwillingness to care what others think - to “give a whit,” about drinking water that he just washed a cheese-crusted fork off in. About how as children, the correct answer to any question of permission or ability is always, “I’ll just do it.”
On a related note, one of the big points being made in the Diane Rehm interview was that children tend to be better at learning languages not because their brains are necessarily more plastic or because they are more open to it, but because they don’t understand the idea of self-censoring. They have no switch that tells them, “you’re doing this wrong, you look like a moron,” and so they are very willing to keep playing the same 3 chords completely incorrectly until they click. They are willing to try new languages and pronounce things completely incorrectly, and they don’t worry if they’re not hyperpolyglots in a matter of months. It’s fascinating to me that one of the ways we shut down our own learning capabilities is by forcing ourselves to fit the norm we desire to show others - we embarrass ourselves into banality.
I think that has been one of the most fascinating parts about parenting - watching this little curious baby (you) interrogate EVERYTHING. Ask, in your own way, “what’s this? How does it taste? Can i bang it on something?” There is nothing that embarrasses you, slows you down, causes you to pause. There are not items too big to stick in your mouth, no windows too cold to lick, no amount of falling down that will stop you from climbing back up. There is little evident frustration, little anger, little worry. You just try.
You have this habit right now of banging your wooden balls and mallets on our nice custom-made wood coffee table. If we’re in the room (and we almost always are at this point) we’ll deliberately stop you to protect our investment. Last night, however, you simply squatted down, with the wooden ball in your tiny little grasp, and started banging it on the lower shelf. You could care less we’ve told you to stop - you’re practicing fine motor skills and we are simply getting in the way with our desire to remain dent free… To have a coffee table that doesn’t embarrass us.
I’m not sure how long this aversion to self-censoring will last for you, probably until you start Kindergarten and bullying begins in earnest, but I hope you can carry some aspects of it long into adulthood. I can state without pause that a willingness to try new things, to jump into conversation or sign up for new projects, is a trait I wish I had more of. You’ll learn by the time you’re 30, if not earlier, that everyone’s basically an idiot anyway - you might as well have some fun and learn some new things while you bumble around life like everyone else.