Character Building - Independence
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
BY taking the word " independence " apart and rebuilding it the mother will get a vision of duty. "Pendent" is from the latin word pendere, to hang, and means hanging. A pendent earring or breastpin gives the meaning. "De" is also from the Latin, and means down. To be dependent, therefore, means to hang down. Anything that fastens itself to a support and then hangs on it is dependent. A dependent child is one who hangs on some one, usually on mother. If the child is to be amused, the mother must amuse it. If it is to be dressed, the mother must dress it. If it is to walk, the mother must lead it. If it is to eat, the mother must feed it. "In," the first part of the word " independence," was the last to be added to it. " In " is a prefix of Latin origin, and has the negative force of "not." The independent child is one that does not "hang down," one that cuts loose from a support and acts for itself. Self-help, self-amusement, self-dependence!
The great question is, When can the mother wisely begin to add the "in" to her child's dependence and give it in-dependence? The correct answer is, " The hour it is born." There was a time when mothers believed that when the child cried the nurse should rock it in her arms. Infants are now taught to be independent of the nurse's arms, and rockers have been taken off the crib. The two-mile night-walk, carrying the crying child across, around, and through the room, has been abandoned. Mothers have learned that colic and father-inherited temper can be clearly distinguished by the cry of the child. Intelligence on the part of the mother has made the infant independent.
When the child comes to the toy age a new world of opportunity opens before the mother. Toys, if properly selected, are among the very best means of adding the prefix " in" to " dependent." In the "Child Welfare Exhibit," a great revelation was made along this line in what they called "do-with" toys; that is, toys that the child can do something with.
Once upon a time there was a little boy whose nursery was so crowded with wonderful mechanical toys that he couldn't take a step without the risk of being run over by an electric train or hit with a miniature flying-machine. And he was one of the most dependent, discontented, unhappy little boys on earth. The "do-with" toys show wealthy parents that their children have a normal play-impulse which can be more easily gratified by a few simple toys that tend to inspire the child's imaginative, inventive, and independent natures than by all the most expensive and complicated mechanical toys in the world.
The writer made a careful study of the "do-with" toys, and is convinced that they will develop the power in boys and girls to depend upon themselves for amusement. The mechanical toy leaves nothing for the child to do; it is too near perfection. The child has an instinct for doing something. The simple "do-with" toy awakens the instinct of independence and suggests a motive. A story will illustrate our meaning.
Animals do wonderful things without being taught. Each in its own line inherits an education-an education which, in common language, goes by the name of instinct.
A college professor in Maine tells how he convinced a friend who did not believe that beavers could build dams. He bought a baby beaver of a hunter, and sent it to his skeptical friend.
The creature became a great pet in the house, but showed no signs of wanting to build a dam, until one Monday morning a leaky pail full of water was put on the floor of the back kitchen, where the beaver was dependent upon Bridget for amusement. He was only a baby, to be sure, but the moment he saw the water oozing out of a crack in the pail he scampered into the yard, brought in a chip, and began building his dam. Now he was independent.
His owner was called, and he watched the little fellow, very much astonished at what he saw. He gave orders to have the pail left where it was, and the industrious beaver kept at his work four weeks, when he had built a solid dam all around the pail. To have built the dam for the baby beaver would have been a fundamental mistake. A little stream of water on the floor, a chip in the yard, plus the instinct to build a dam, and the dependent beaver became independent. Instead of an expensive dam to amuse him, he had a little stream of water and a "do-with" chip.
Mother's apron-strings have been much abused. Her apron has two strings. As the child grows, one string should be slackened until the child feels his freedom. This is the string of independence. The other string should be tightened as its companion string is loosened. This is the string of obedience. Independence and obedience can be exercised in harmony. If the child has liberty to pass from dependence to independence in the affairs he is capable of managing, he will the more readily submit in the affairs he cannot under-stand. Well on in the night, at a public dinner in London, General Havelock suddenly exclaimed: "I left my boy this afternoon on London Bridge, and told him to wait there till I came back!" The General had forgotten his son. Hastening to the bridge he found the boy just where he had left him. The boy had learned independence and was not afraid to wait. He had learned obedience, and therefore waited for his father's return. He found many things to interest him while waiting. He was self-dependent, had resources within himself on which to hang. This independence was essential to his obedience. Without it he would soon have left the bridge and been lost in the crowd.
Under " courage " and " obedience " the reader will find numerous references that are related to this topic. "The Juvenile Orator " in Volume I is a first-class poem to persuade a child to learn, and " Jack and his Master" a good tale showing the value of independent thinking. Volume VII is fairly full of characters standing for this prime quality-to begin with, read "Andreas Hofer" and "Paul Jones " and the "Bon Homme Richard." The same volume contains a good essay for older heads on "Obligations of Citizenship." In Volume IX it is difficult to determine which biography to choose, as the trait independence played such a part in the development of these big men and women; but see "Thomas Jefferson" and "Thomas Carlyle." There are a number of poems in Volume XI containing fruitful seeds of this desirable quality; look up "Arnold von Winkelried."