I.5.4 Beeflow Starts in Childhood

There is a second aspect to being able to being resilient to pain and external pressure, which is having somebody to rely on who gives unconditional love. Besides having suffered a lot in their youth, both Elon Musk and Steve Jobs also had loving mothers who were key for their future successes. After Steve Jobs was put up for adoption by his biological mother, he was adopted by Clara and Paul Jobs, and according to his words, “was blessed to have the two of them as parents”. Elon Musk’s mother gave him extraordinary freedom, but also taught him that “you have to work hard to make your own luck”  while as a divorced mother with three children the family lived hand-to-mouth. Early on the members of the family had a reciprocal relationship: Maye Musk, the mother, was the caretaker of the family, but the children also took turns taking care of her. While Maye was in Toronto to set up her PhD program at University of Toronto in 1989 , her fifteen-year-old daughter Tosca decided that the whole family should move to Canada, and sold the family house and car on her own. When Maye came back, the only thing left for her to do was sign the sales contract. 

In his book “Aging Well” George Vaillant stresses the importance of having stable relationships to build resilience against adversity . Vaillant describes the results of three longitudinal studies, where researcher followed hundreds of people from birth to death from different strata of society. Besides not smoking, not drinking excessively, not being overweight, and having exercise, the most important criteria is to be in warm and loving relationships – in other words being well entangled. Vaillant compares the success of a man who was born in poor circumstances in Boston’s South End, without money, and was regularly beaten by his father. However, this man reported having an older brother who acted as his protector, and supported him through his struggles while growing up. He lived to old age, achieving considerable financial success owning his own business. Vaillant compares him to a group of men studying at Harvard, not lacking any financial support in their youth, while being emotionally neglected by their parents who were busy participating in the social life of Boston’s high society. They all died unhappy and lonely, comparatively young in their sixties, their wealth gone, some of them also becoming alcoholics.

A similar research project conducted in the sixties of the twentieth century by Betty Hart and Todd Risley  further supports the importance of having positively nurturing support in the first few years of a child’s life. The 30-million-word gap study followed the lives of 42 American families with small children over two and a half years. In the age before digital audio analysis the researchers painstakingly recorded and counted the number of words the parents in these families exchanged with their little children. They grouped the families into three categories: low status, frequently being on welfare; blue collar working class, with functioning but relatively low-income non-academic parents; and high-status professional families, with frequently academically educated parents. They found that the welfare families, frequently led by single mothers, exchanged 15 million words, while the high-status families spoke 45 million words with their children. Even more, they found that in high-status professional families, the ratio of encouragement of the parents towards the children compared to discouragement was about six to one, corresponding to a professional parent giving 166,000 encouragements and 26,000 discouragements to the child. This was radically different in welfare families, where the ratio was one encouragement to three discouragements, corresponding to totally 26,000 encouragements compared to 57,000 discouragements. When checking the academic performance five to seven years later, the researchers found that the number of words children were exposed to in years one to three significantly predicted their academic performance six years later.  

Indian educator Sugata Mitra created another experiment that illustrates the importance of loving supportive relationships for children in their initial years. In the slums of Kalkaji in Delhi he pioneered the concept of minimally invasive education through his “hole in the wall” experiment. By providing protected computers to children in slums – the “holes in the wall” were computers in an ATM-like case – Sugata Mitra found that the children were teaching themselves computer skills, English, and math, just by being able to access the computers and the Internet. He made sure that only children could use the computers, by having plastic covers on the keyboards where only small arms would fit through, and having iron seats in front of the computers too narrow for the bodies of adults. He compared the educational performance of the self-taught slum children with the performance of children attending some of the best schools in India, where he found that slum children performed almost as well as the children from the good schools. By adding a support network – the granny cloud  – the slum children improved their performance to the level of the children from the good schools. The grannies were from the UK, and initially they were just chatting with the slum children, but soon they started sharing stories, songs, puzzles, and games to reach out to the children. Some of the grannies even traveled to India to visit “their” children. As this example illustrates, besides having access to the Internet through the hole in the wall computers, and sharing insights in small children groups clustered around the computers, it was the loving positive feedback provided by the grannies that made all the difference.


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