How do you build a better world?
There are so many well-known, urgent places you might start:
malaria, carbon emissions, tax evasion, the drug trade, soil erosion, water pollution…
疟疾 碳排放 逃税 毒品交易 水土流失 水污染……
Donald Winnicott deserves his place in history
because of the dramatic simplicity of his approach.
He proposed that
the happiness of the human race
depended ultimately not so much on external political issues,
but on the way parents bring up their children.
Born in 1896,
Winnicott was Britain’s first medically-trained child psychoanalyst.
Although he had no children of his own,
he played a crucial and devoted role in public education around child-rearing,
delivering some 600 talks on the BBC,
tirelessly lecturing around the country
and authoring 15 books,
among which the bestselling collection of essays,
Home is Where We Start From.
It was rather strange that Winnicott should even have been English
given that his country was notorious, then as now,
for its lack of tenderness and its resistance to introspection.
And yet Winnicott’s brand of psychoanalysis was, on closer inspection,
There was a characteristic English modesty about
what he saw as the point of child psychoanalysis.
His famous radio series was simply titled
The Ordinary Devoted Mother and Her Baby.
He wanted to help people to be,
in his famous formulation, good enough parents;
not brilliant or perfect ones (as other nations might have wished),
but just OK.
So what would it take, in his eyes,
to encourage the ‘good enough’ parent?
Winnicott put forward a number of suggestions:
Winnicott begins by impressing on his audience
how psychologically fragile an infant is.
It doesn’t understand itself, it doesn’t know where it is,
it is struggling to stay alive,
it has no way of grasping when the next feed will come,
it can’t communicate with itself or others.
Winnicott’s work never loses sight of this,
and he therefore repeatedly insists
that it is those around the infant who have to adapt
so as to do everything to interpret the child’s needs
and not impose demands for which the child is not ready.
For example, Winnicott knew
what violence, what hate there could be in a healthy infant.
Referring to what happens if a parent forgets a feed,
he cautioned: ‘If you fail him,
it must feel to him as if the wild beasts would gobble him up.’
But though the infant might sometimes want to kill and destroy,
it is vital for the parents to allow rage to expend itself,
and for them not in any way
to be threatened or moralistic about ‘bad’ behaviour,
as he putted, ‘If a baby cries in a state of rage …
and yet the people round him remain calm and unhurt,
this experience greatly strengthens his ability
to see that what he feels to be true is not necessarily real.’
Parents are delighted when infants and children follow their rules.
Such children are called good.
Winnicott was very scared of ‘good’ children.
He believed that they were the children of parents
who could not tolerate too much bad behaviour
and demanded compliance too early and too strictly.
This would lead, in Winnicott’s formulation,
to the emergence of a False Self –
a persona that would be outwardly compliant, outwardly good,
but was suppressing its vital instincts.
In Winnicott’s scheme,
adults who can’t be creative,
who are somehow a little dead inside,
are almost always the children of parents who have not been able to tolerate defiance,
parents who have made their offspring ‘good’ way before their time,
thereby killing their capacity
to be properly good, properly generous and kind.
Every failure of the environment forces a child to adapt prematurely.
For example, if the parents are too chaotic,
the child quickly tries to over-think the situation.
Its rational faculties are over-stimulated
(it may, in later life, try to be an intellectual).
A parent who is depressed might unwittingly force the child to be too cheerful –
giving it no time to process its own melancholy feelings.
Winnicott saw the dangers in a child who, in his words,
has to ‘look after mother’s mood’.
Winnicott had a special hatred for
‘people who are always jogging babies up and down on their knees
trying to produce a giggle.’
This was merely their way of warding off their own sadness,
by demanding laughter from a baby
who might have very different things on its mind.
The primordial act of parental health for Winnicott
is simply to be able to tune out of oneself for a time
in the name of empathising
with the ways and needs of a small, mysterious, beautiful fragile person
孩子的行为方式和需求 这个弱小 神秘 美丽 脆弱的人
whose unique otherness must be acknowledged and respected in full measure.
Many of the parents Winnicott saw were worn down by their labours.
Winnicott tried to bolster them
by reminding them of the utmost importance of what they were doing.
They were, in their own way,
as significant to the nation as the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.
Winnicott called parenting: ‘the only real basis for a healthy society,
温尼科特称 育儿是“健康社会唯一的 真正的基础
and the only factory for the democratic tendency
in a country’s social system.’
In his descriptions of what parents should do for their children,
Winnicott was in effect referring to a term
which he rarely mentioned directly: love.
We often imagine love to be
about a magical intuitive ‘connection’ with someone.
But, in Winnicott’s writings, we get a different picture.
It’s about a surrender of the ego,
a putting aside of one’s own needs and assumptions,
for the sake of close, attentive listening to another,
whose mystery one respects,
along with a commitment not to get offended, not to retaliate,
when something ‘bad’ emerges,
as it often does when one is close to someone,
particular child or even adult.
Since Winnicott’s death,
we’ve collectively grown a little better at parenting.
But only a little.
We may spend more time with our children,
we know in theory that they matter a lot,
but we’re arguably still failing at the part Winnicott focused on:
We still routinely fail to suppress our own needs or stifle our own demands
when we’re with a child.
We’re still learning how to love our children –
and that, Winnicott would argue,
is why the world is still full of the walking-wounded,
people of outward ‘success’ and respectability
who are nevertheless not quite ‘real’ inside
and inflict their wounds on others.
We’ve a way to go until we are fully ‘good enough.’
It’s a task –
Winnicott would have insisted –
that’s in its own way as important as any other.