Dear Grandparenting: I cannot get enough of my grandson Jamie. He gurgles and smiles and likes me to smile back. He likes to be rubbed on his little tummy. He is just a perfect little angel.
I also think about all the cruelty and suffering in this world that people inflict on each other. The evening news is so full of hatred and violence that I have stopped watching.
Babies are often characterized as selfish little monsters with no morals that need to be civilized, something grandparents do quite nicely. So I suppose he’s pretty capable of becoming one of those bad guys in the news, or is he?
This has been rattling around my brain for a good while now. Are babies born to become good, or born to be evil? Does my grandson have a sense of right and wrong? Merry Patel, Tucson, Arizona
Dear Merry: Yours is a most interesting take on human nature that we were not equipped to answer. So we found a man who is. His answers may surprise you.
Paul Bloom, professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University, conducts research into how babies and adults come to understand their world. He contends that “a sense of good is bred into the bone,” and that infants are born with a moral compass and sense of empathy and fair play.
In one of his child development experiments, one-year-olds watch a puppet show featuring a good guy who returns a ball to its owner, and bad guy who runs away with the ball.
After each puppet was given a treat, the babies were allowed to take one away. Almost every one took the treat given to the bad guy. Three-month-olds also show a sense of fair play. Bloom says his results are supported by other research. So instead of little savages, grandchildren begin as moral creatures. Then family members take over, molding subsequent development by modeling behaviors that enhance or degrade this moral foundation.
But when it comes to kindness and compassion, “we all start off indifferent — or worse — toward strangers,” says Bloom. Grandparents who wish their great-great grandchildren will inherit a world where society works toward the greater common good should know that “biological nature” may be lined up against them.
Grand remark of the week
Dot Miller from Waynesboro, Pennsylvania was outside with granddaughter Emma stargazing. “One day we’ll both be in heaven with Mommy and Daddy and Grandfather Bob,” Emma said.
“Don’t forget your brother Tommy,” said Dot.
“Brothers and gross things like worms don’t belong in heaven,” said Emma.
Dee and Tom, married more than 50 years, have eight grandchildren. Together with Key, they welcome questions, suggestions and Grand Remarks of the Week. Send to P.O. Box 27454, Towson, MD, 21285. Call 410-963-4426.