14th July 2016

“What the fable of Johnny and Jimmy means for all of us”

Last week I wrote about the fable of Johnny and Jimmy and as I reflect on the story and what it means, there are several unavoidable implications to spring from it.

By implication Jimmy’s Mum would have to have had complete faith that her son was capable of learning the lessons that life was about to teach him. She had to have faith that he would be able to work out what he could do to not get cold and wet the next time. She would have had to have faith that he was or would be capable of thinking for himself and coming up with the answers that were best for him.

We could also conclude that Johnny’s Mum didn’t have the same faith in him. She had chosen (perhaps not consciously) to make Johnny’s decisions for him. The more she persisted in doing so the less likely Johnny was to make his own decisions. The more she persisted the more she would be leading Johnny to the position that I have spoken about before, of learned helplessness. Johnny would learn that he didn’t have to think for himself because his Mum had taught him, by custom and practice, that he didn’t need to. His Mum would always answer his questions for him. You can imagine an 18-year-old Johnny saying to his Mum, “I am going to the football this afternoon. What should I wear?”

To give people the answers rather than help them to find their own best answers now somehow feels disrespectful, doesn’t it? It demeans the other person in the relationship. If you pause to think about it, what is your philosophical position? Do you hold the assumption that human beings are inherently good? And intelligent? And imaginative? And capable of choice and solving problems? Or the opposite? What do your behaviours reveal your assumptions to be?

We will all blunder and make less than optimum choices. That is the beauty of being human and as Lewis Thomas wrote. “The capacity to blunder is the real marvel of DNA. Without this special attribute we would still be anaerobic bacteria, and there would be no music.” The human race has evolved so far simply because of that amazing ability to learn, and to adapt.

The fable of Johnny and Jimmy illustrates one thing above all to me, as someone once said “Next to life itself our greatest gift is the right to choose” By making choices for other people we steal away not only their greatest gift, their right to choose, but also their greatest opportunity, the opportunity to learn. If we knew that was the price of our actions would we willingly make that choice?

To quote from Nancy Kline “The quality of everything human beings do, everything- depends on the quality of the thinking we do first”. To help us to be the best that we can be we must encourage each other to think for ourselves.The greatest gift we can offer each other is the framework in which to think for ourselves.