This article is cross-posted and adapted from The Dangerous Child
When training Dangerous Children, we use various techniques to push students beyond normal comfort areas. In the method discussed today, the child acts as his own teacher and “therapist,” as is typical throughout The Dangerous Child Method from the earliest ages on into adulthood.
Al Fin stumbled onto this particular approach years ago when he was living in a lefty commune, making cheese and beer, smoking pot, and fraternising with naked young girls. During a late night bull session in the common room, Al Fin blurted out to an overly talkative and cynical teenage visitor to the farm: “The end result of cynicism is that it feeds on itself until it grows to a critical mass, then it self-destructs. At that point the person is free to live a more authentic life.”
The youngster reacted in a predictably cynical manner to this sage outburst, but the steadier and more seasoned potheads in the room nodded their heads in agreement with the wisdom expressed.
Since then Fin has often reflected — and sometimes practised — the idea of “supersaturation” with unpleasant feelings and experiences in order to liberate himself from them. This idea is closely related to the common self-help staple of “failing in order to succeed.” It is well known to productive people from inventors to writers to entrepreneurs, that in order to achieve meaningful success a person must experience multiple failures — then learn from each one in order to build and grow to the winning effort.
The human nervous system experiences everything on a relative scale. Consider the optical illusion below:
The two pieces A and B are the same colour, although because of the relative shades around them and at the junction, they appear to be distinctly different.
We may be comfortable in an air-conditioned environment indoors on a hot summer day, but after going outside for a time and acclimating, when we return indoors we suddenly feel exceptionally cool. We experience the world in relative terms.
Consider a person living in a cozy part of town, with favourite restaurants, entertainments, and everyday habitual activities of recreation and amusement. After traveling away for a few weeks or longer when he finally returns to his nest he may learn to appreciate new aspects of his almost-habitual lifestyle. Or he may be moved to try new things. The act of placing oneself outside of normal comfort zones perturbs the equilibrium, often leading to change.
Dangerous Child Self-Therapy
In the Dangerous Child Method, therapy is just another form of teaching and training. Past a certain point of development, it is all self-administered with only occasional checks and graduations.
Some very young children have difficulty with the concept of “cynicism,” but they easily understand hot and cold, bright and dark, wide open and closed in, and hunger/thirst vs. satisfaction. Voluntarily putting oneself well outside personal comfort zones for certain minimal periods of time leads to forms of understanding and enlightenment not readily available through verbal instruction.
In the mainstream we see something similar in the act of “sitting” in Zen, or mindfulness practise. For most people “just sitting” is uncomfortable to the point of distraction. It is likely that a significant part of the benefit that comes from sitting or mindfulness is the act of transcending the “discomfort” of stretching boundaries.
For Dangerous Children, it is crucial for the student to understand the relativity of experience. Coming to terms with discomfort, unease, fear, and pain, is a vital aspect of becoming Dangerous.
The training itself goes quite deep, at least for the individual child. It is all relative, and each child can do only so much at his particular stage of development. But what he can do with training is far more than what conventional children are expected to do in the dumbed down world of convention.
Simply put, we take the concept of “overtraining,” and apply it to as many aspects of physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual experience as seems appropriate for the particular child. Just as in the development of particular skills (music, movement, language, pattern etc.), the child himself indicates through subtle signs where and how far the experiment should proceed at a particular time and place.
Nietzsche’s dictum that “what does not kill us makes us stronger,” and Taleb’s concept of “anti-fragility” express an important idea of growing beyond former limitations. But in order to do that, the limitations must be challenged. And doing that is not always fun or blissful, and may not lead directly to happiness.
Life is not really about happiness, not directly. Like finding a faint star in the night sky, one must often use the periphery of vision to find what one seeks.
There is a place for boldness and a place for subtlety. Learning the proper approach for the situation is a skill not often taught in school or university — or virtually anywhere in the mainstream. Rather than experimenting in the public sphere, it is best to set out to learn one’s own limits and points of departure first.
Yes, it often takes a lifetime to become aware, and to know what to do with that awareness. But the earlier one begins, the better.