- James Kingsford-Smith
The tone and pitch of a baby’s scream is not an accident.
It has been designed to be as unpleasant to the adult ear as possible through thousands of years of evolution! It is designed to inflict discomfort… especially the cry of you own child.
It is the sound that forces you (as if moving without intervention) to do everything in your power to help however you can.
It is not a cognitive choice… it is an instinctual reaction.
It is a baptism of fire into the world of parenting.
It is your initiation into hearing another’s voice more loudly than your own.
This is mandatory empathy!
Different people feel it in different ways. Some parents will cry along with their children, they will feel it as an uncontrollable synesthesia.
Some will find it moves their bodies without conscious thought.
Some react more calmly and can control the pain, employing rational thought before action.
But all parents who are present will feel it and be forced to develop the sensitivity to another’s needs more strongly than before.
I believe, the scream of the child has been specifically designed this way, to shock us out of our instincts for self-obsession.
It must be strong, as us human animals have quite an aptitude for self-obsession.
The scream must be loud, to drown out the constant narrative going on inside our heads. It is the heavy bludgeoning stick used to train the parent and initiate them into the parent game. The perpetual obsession with trying to figure out what the child is thinking, wants and needs. And, of course, everyone plays the game differently!
But obsession is powerful. It can keep you up all night, trying to work out why little Lewis isn’t talking at dinner or why Sally has decided to quit ballet even though she said she enjoyed it before. We will read every sign on their faces, every bodily reaction, which could possible give a clue to the child’s true and deep desires.
We listen so hard that it strains our ears and makes a pressure on the front of the skull.
What could they want?
How can I help?
What on Earth could they be feeling?
Now, let me make it clear that I am not labeling parents as saints! Far from it! And I am not claiming that non-parents don’t also develop empathy from the taking care of another animals or people.
In addition, many parents will work hard at suppressing this empathy, instead implanting their own rules and desires onto their children. Making their voices louder than their little ones, as “Mother and Father know best!”
And many will never apply this empathetic ability to anyone else except their own offspring. Quite the opposite, many will lose their empathy for others who were previously very close to them, perhaps out of exhaustion or priority. The Papa/Mama may deny others aid or sustenance in name of their child and will certainly kill any animal that hints at being a serious threat!
But some learn to expand their awareness.
They become better listeners. They will hear other babies cry from across the park and possibly do something to help if it feels appropriate. They might think for longer about how their friend might be feeling after going through a personal tragedy. They might act more readily when they see a human in distress and in need of help.
Or maybe not…
The point is, that there is an opportunity to develop stronger empathy from this initial baptism of screaming baby. It is a slap in the face that can wake the sleeping “care” in the human consciousness. Some will block it out, not wanting to become vulnerable… but some will foster it, seeing the power and strength which is only possible through vulnerability!
But it all begins with listening.
…That reminder to “wake up, wake up, WAKE UP!”
There is much training to be done!