A young child pushes his brother down and takes his toy away. The younger child is startled and cries. The older child hits him.

It's sickening to watch the scene take place with anyone, it's worse with children though. It makes it so heart-wrenching and sad. Aren't they supposed to be innocent and pure? Then perhaps it is human nature being candid. The emotions displayed are pure and vivid, painted cleanly on the childrens' faces.

When I was a student, one of my professors told me that she never believed in original sin until her daughter was born. The experience of seeing the perfect child (who was of course receiving the perfect upbringing) behave with malice aforethought convinced her.

Disclaimer: I do not personally subscribe to the doctrine of original sin. The lady in question was a Southern Baptist.

I have heard it said that children are the true litmus test of human nature. The fact that they squabble, bicker and fight over the slightest increase or decrease in comfort would seem to indicate that we have usurped our place in the circle of life. When I was much younger and children’s toys were still made out of metal I witnessed a young boy playing in the sandbox at a day care facility. He was happily digging holes with a small garden trowel. A young girl approached and attempted to remove the trowel from his grasp for her own pleasure. Before anyone could react the boy jerked the tool back and lashed out at her. He brutally clubbed her over the head twice before she fell to the ground and attendants managed to stop his tirade. The first blow from the edge of the trowel had deeply lacerated her brow down the front of her forehead. The second blow glanced off the side of her skull and nearly removed her ear. This all happened at a day care center run by the local church. Presumably the people who brought their kids here practiced a little more restraint and provided a better example for their children. And yet, here was a boy less than six years old who had nearly killed a girl in a fit of rage over the loss of a toy. This kid wasn't really old enough to have picked up murder yet, I'm sure he didn't understand the repercussions of his attack. His actions were almost entirely instinctual. He had fallen prey to his human nature, which is really no different than lion nature or monkey nature. We are first and foremost mammals. Any distance from our animal instincts has only developed in the last thirty or forty thousand years. Previous to that we were just as wild as any other animal for millions of years. It's great that as a species we are finally starting to overcome these tendencies towards animalistic brutality, but unfortunately our children will always display the worst of these habits until they begin to adopt the behavior of a nurturing environment and start to function as a productive member of society.
I find the concept of both purity and original sin in children a bit strange. Children are neither pure nor sinful; they're amoral little beasts.

Humans are born animals. The main purpose of the 18- (or 20-, or 25-) year period we call childhood is to socialize them into being human beings.

Fortunately, human offspring in general can think and eventually grasp advanced concepts like delayed gratification and enlightened self-interest. If they've been carefully socialized and encouraged to develop those skills, some day they may even display them in practical every-day settings, like lending their favorite blur cd to a friend, holding open the door for the stranger behind them, or volunteering for Big Brothers Big Sisters. But that's just not going to happen in the first 10 years or so.

Children are very often cruel because they are honest. Our feelings about other people and certain situations don't really change since we are three years old according to Freud, thus we merely learn what is socially acceptable and what is not, and do not display that cruelty as honestly as children do.

Children are hardly cruel. Selfish and self-centered, perhaps, but not cruel. Cruelty implies some sense of malice and contempt--perhaps even a hint of sadism--but children do not yearn to hurt or harm others, to see them in pain and agony; they merely want their immediate desires to be fulfilled. For a child, the end always justifies the means, and it is that need for instant gratification which may be deemed cruel by an outside, adult observer.

As a side note, please keep in mind that innocence does not, in any manner, have the same meaning as kindness. Innocence is merely a nicer word for ignorance, and until a child has been taught the rules of society, he or she cannot make a decision as to whether or not willingly break or uphold them. The malice usually associated with cruelty is difficult to form without the knowledge of society's structured set of rules and regulations, which, of course, comes only with the loss of innocence.

Pantsless_Bob and other kindergarten aunties probably don't remember themselves as being cruel. I have some examples. Warning! Do not read if you have emotions. The reader has been warned.

I and my friends dissected a mouse with a paring knife when the mouse still was still living. It was fun to watch when a cat ate its brain. I also put live bugs into turpentine, and watched them die. We burned some ants with gunpowder in a small paper boat. My friend prevented his friend T. from going into the lavatory, so T. shat in his pants.

So don't tell me that children wouldn't be cruel. They are sadists, and have no empathy. The "immediate desire" that P_B refers to can also be to see something or -one suffer. Children are also masters in contempt: bullying is usually thought as a school-specific problem. They're capable of malice that adults see as completely inappropriate. They haven't learned about suffering, so they think that it's fun to watch. The concept of suffering other than the of themselves comes later in life. Until then, they don't kill each other only because Mum tells them not to. "Cool, you can put a bullet into his head!" When you have a bunch of boys together, the result is, if unsupervised, as in Lord of the Flies.

The life of a child is usually thought to be "care-free" etc. The hierarchy of a group of children is much harsher than the one of adults, as the example of T. illustrates. When I was a child, I was really annoyed by the idea that children would be always happy and having fun all the time. I was treated like a retard by the adults just because of my age. I hammered it to my brain that children are cruel, that they oppress the "unpopular" harshly, and the adults think they're stupid. Children know less and understand less, but this does not mean that they are stupid and happy.

I remember I had no empathy as a child. People, especially other children, were not other beings to care about; they were just interesting things to interact with. Animals were about on the same level as people, less interesting to interact with yet easier to control.

 

When I got a rat the first thing I did was cruel. I grabbed its tiny paws in between my fingertips and held them up above it's head so it had to stand on it's hind legs and couldn't move. At first it was fairly still, but this was a rather uncomfortable position for it to be and soon writhed around trying to escape. Each time it squirmed I jerked it's arms up still higher, only to lower it slightly when it was still. It stopped making large movements, but I kept raising my standard for stillness until even the slightest twitch warranted a cruel jerk.

 

When it was completely still I decided it wasn't good enough. I had to make it dance. I jerked its arms around so that it had to shuffle its feet. I didn't think it was funny, I just thought it was interesting. I enjoyed it, the more pain the rat was in, the more I got the sick joy of tormenting it.

 

I never once stopped to question if it were inherently wrong; that is until my mom told me to stop (luckily for me she only got a slight glimpse and thought I was just playing with it). Then I thought it was wrong, or at least it was something I wasn't supposed to do.

 

I remember another overtly cruel, senseless incident. There was a plant that consisted of long, grass blade like leaves in my friends yard. The blades were somewhat stiff and cracked perfectly as a whip (and hurt just as badly). The other kids just cracked them into the air, seeing how loud the crack could be. Without thinking I cracked it at a girl who was slightly older than me.

 

"Ouch!"

 

I giggled. Crack!

 

"OUCH!" She ran.

 

I chased, cracking away. I was so caught in the moment of the joy of hurting this girl that it took my mom several yells of my name before I even realized she was yelling at me. Whoops. I'm not supposed to do that either? I'm "sorry" (a word I never meant until at least the age of 8).

 

Not only did I hurt others without thinking about it, I ENJOYED hurting others. I didn't understand that this joy should bother me.

 

I'm glad I am such an introspective person, or I could've been well on my way to much, much, more horrible things. My parents also played a key role. They taught me what I shouldn't do as long they were watching. My logic and internally formed ethics taught me what I shouldn't do when they weren't.

 

Deep down, I may still be a sadist. I may still have the capacity to enjoy other's pain. We all do. Part of being a child is learning how and why to suppress it.

 

Either that, or I'm just messed up in the head.

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