Lessons from childhood

First it might be your knees. Then your eyesight. But as you age, the next thing to go is your memory. We tend to forget. Not just names and faces, but sometimes the important things in life – the lessons we first learned when we were children.

As we grow up, we learn the world is complex. It’s full of intractable problems, like war, climate change, and global pandemics. And we often have lofty but challenging societal goals, like providing comprehensive public transport, responsive health care, and a fair tax system. None of these have a single, straightforward solution.

And what’s worse, we tend to complicate things even further. “Complexity bias”, as it’s known, is our tendency to favour a complex hypothesis over a simple one. To hit our New Year’s resolutions, we seek out complicated, absurdly detailed fitness and nutrition plans, rather than simply choosing to eat better and move more. To find meaning in life, we immerse ourselves in vastly complicated religions with millennia of law, tradition, and history.

In the early 2000s, a book called The Bible Code appeared, reporting to reveal the secret messages encoded in the Bible – as if the text wasn’t already complex enough. As a late-night talk show host wondered, why would the writer waste time searching for hidden messages when we still can’t stick to the ones in plain sight, like Jesus’s exhortation to Love your neighbour as yourself.

As Confucious – who lived a full five centuries before a historical Jesus – could have told the talk show host, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

Here are just some of the lessons we may have forgotten we learned from our families and schoolteachers when we were children:

Be nice. Don’t hit. Play fair. Wash your hands. Bring enough to share. Clean up your mess. Tell the truth. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say hello and goodbye, please and thank you. Spend lots of time outdoors. Make sure everyone feels welcome. Hold hands and stick together. Eat your greens. Get plenty of sleep. Enjoy good stories. Laugh.

Just like loving your neighbour as yourself, these simple rules are often far from easy. You could spend your entire life just learning to apply them.

What if we actually did?