MM: We tend to forget that real playing is how real learning takes place. Games are leaning experiences. They build capacity. So, what are we learning when the games we are play in aren’t safe?
J: Safety or security, what we call as the safe environment in which we learn is so critical because if you're not safe, if you feel under sensor of any nature at all, then you have to use part of your energy to defend yourself, to be on the lookout for those cues that are attacking or threatening. And at the same time, try to open up and embrace a whole new mode of action. Now when we speak of concentration or entrainment, where all the energy can focus on a particular activity so that we can learn it throughout our whole body, we know the whole body learns in all cases, but if part of us has to be on guard against being unsafe, or open to sensor, punishment, retribution, any of those things that we find in competition on or adult ideas imposed, or even having to measure up to standards, then we cannot entrain, which means thought, feeling, and action, the three levels of the brain, can't entrain on a single activity. We're going to be thinking well I'd better do this. We're going to be feeling I might not be able to and I'll catch it, I'll be a failure, I'm a loser, I'll be punished, I'll be ostracized, and the body which has its own wisdom, unable to integrate the energies it needs to go ahead and act accordingly. So we're a house divided against ourselves and there's no help in us, there's no holiness in us. As a result, no concentrated learning can take place.
MM: This entrainment you described is all about attention. It is really very clear that for contracted attention to take place we need to have coherent attention and not be a house divided against itself.
J. Just bridge on over to the fact that our complaint of our children today is they can't concentrate. They can't possibly concentrate so much of their energy is having to go out to try to protect themselves against a world they can't trust, or a world in which they fill they're in competition with. If they're in competition with their world, they can't trust the world, if they can't trust it, there's no way in the world that they can move into it with a focused entrained energy.
MM: so having a safe place is a prerequisite for concentrated learning right from the beginning. Describe how having a safe place to learn affects the way we learn.
J: In order for all the development to have unfolded up to that point, they have to have been given the secure environment, the safe space that the parent, and then the society itself is a safe space. So that then when they hit the period of competitiveness which is natural, that's simply as natural a part as their dream like mode was from 4 to 7. So they meet that of course then with great delight because that's what the system is expecting. Nature's agenda calls for that as we approach puberty and adolescence and so forth to enfold, and then it will be met with great delight. They can enter into it with a full focus of attention. They will not interpret this threatening, but as a chance for their own development of that skill during that period. And the development of that skill depends on another to pit your skills against, in effect. And so they look forward to that. They'll automatically, naturally create it, if not given it. Whereas the child who is from the beginning denied a safe space, and who's having to divert a great deal of that energy to try to set up a defense system against a world they can't trust. Then at each of these periods it's going to fall into the same knee jerk reflex. They're simply going to try to defend themselves against each new stage of development that opens up. So when it comes to competitiveness, they're not going to be competitive within any kind of the developmental way. There will be no growth through it. It will simply be the necessity to create even deeper more ingrained defense patterns against a world which they now really can't trust because it's moving against them competitively which they have to interpret as threat.
MM: The goal of competitive activities is to come out on top, to win. How does wining fit into nature’s developmental agenda.
J: I don’t think the child until that formal operational stage comes in about eleven or twelve really thinks about winning or losing. That is not a natural process at all within the child. Winning and losing would be a premature puberty and would indicate a real defense system, a child really on guard against a world they can’t trust. And certain actions they will do to win which means they are in a safer space, or they lose even the safe space they have. And you can get an awful lot of activity out of a child that way. You can drive them to extremes, but it won’t be developmental. It won’t give them the foundations for the later capacities you are looking for.
MM: In a competitive environment there is a strong belief that early is better. We feel we must start our children very early if they are going to make the cut. What does this do to a child’s overall development?
J: We have our little children ages three and four are given a tennis racket and over and over they have their coaches and parents applauding, giving all the laurels, the safe space with the parent is established by pleasing the parent with this. So, all their entrainment, everything is going to go into this. But there is nothing in the natural agenda for development about that. This is why so very often very precocious children arriving very early in a certain activity burn out very quickly because there is not overarching foundation, fundamental structures underlying that activity. They are deficient in many ways just dealing with the world itself because everything has been specific long before the generic. But it can be done. There electing to be the best pilot in the world by age seven or this, that and the other, will always be living out of a parents expectation or a coaches expectation. But it can’t be self-generated. It has to be the need for the safe place established by winning that kind of approval that they will do that.
MM: We keep coming back again and again to ages and stages. The environment or the activity must match the developmental stage. What happens to development if we introduce an activity appropriate for a later state too early?
J: Well I think that's everything we've talked about everything the whole morning. The main thing is to allow the developmental stages to unfold as they are and then you'll find that you can't keep the young person from employing the kinds of competitive skill testing which they need at that stage of the game. And if you take that and enforce it on the child earlier, again you rob them of their safe space for learning and they're not going to be able to develop into that free exercise of testing their skills with each other. You'll undermine the very capacity you're trying to get later on if you bring it in at the inappropriate period. I think the little league of course is a disaster, in every sense of the term. It has not worked. It has not given us happy well-adjusted children.
I just the other day had an example of a parent with their child in a little league and the coach raving at them. These were 7 and 8 year olds and the coach a great big of course coach type railing at them, calling them dumbbells and imbeciles and urging them to get in there and really put their all into it and so forth and the confusion, the utter confusion of the little children and their feeling of shame and guilt and failure and so on. And the parents all lining up on the side of the coach so that the children were literally parents the failure to measure up to the expectations and standards of their coach. Now this is a very strange form of modeling for this here child. These are their social models already condemning them and they don't even know what for.