Baby Can Stand: A Lesson in Empowerment, Risk, and Reward

Josiah, Barbaric YawpMy eight-month-old son has always been extremely forceful about pushing the limits of his physical capacity. With each new skill he has learned — whether rolling, sitting, or scooting — he has immediately set his sights on pursuing the next thing. (At a mere three weeks of age he was able to lift up his head completely on his own.)

Over the past week he has learned a new skill: standing.

He can’t stand independently, but as with every previous pursuit, he certainly thinks he can. He pulls himself up on anything he can find — our couch, his toys, his crib, whatever — and each time he is successful, his eyes light up, his muscles flex, and his voice sounds out what Walt Whitman would surely call a barbaric yawp.

He is empowered. After all of his struggling, all of his toiling, and all of his striving, his muscles are finally ready to support his body sufficiently.

But alas, standing is not good enough. Within minutes he moves away from his object of security toward the nearest open space. Slowly and intentionally, he begins to test the unknown, moving one hand away from his support until finally falling to the floor with a resounding thud.

This type of failure is continuous, but it does not discourage him. Within seconds, he pulls himself up and once again pushes away from his support, fighting feverishly to walk like the rest of us.

When it comes to such determination, my child may be no different from the rest. But as a parent, I can only grin at his resolve. Why does he take so many risks? Why won’t he learn from his mistakes? Why does he think he can let go and stay standing?

Plenty of folks would say it’s because he’s a baby — illogical, irrational, and not fully developed. But what I see is a living, thriving person who is simply not content with the status quo. He is not content with being sedentary and immobile, no matter how many flashy toys I throw in his path. What he wants to do is move and explore, and he will stretch his strength, test his limits, and bonk his head on countless items until he gets there.

There has long been a debate over whether humans are born to crave liberty or relish security (Kenneth Minogue prefers the term “servility”). I tend to think it’s a mix, but when I look at my son’s incessant striving it becomes abundantly clear which option truly pays off.

I can only wonder: What role does taking risks play in feeding his empowerment, and how does the reward of such self-empowerment feed further risk-taking (and thus further empowerment)?

What my son is teaching me is that the experience of success and failure — and even of good old-fashioned hard work — is extremely important for our personal development.

Indeed, it may be easier for a baby because the opportunities for growth are so numerous and so obvious, but what about for us as adults? When we learn how to stand do we continue to lean and push toward walking, or do we stay put, clinging to our object of security? At what point in our personal development do we stop taking risks? At what point do we curb our potential for further self-empowerment and growth?

When was the last time you took a risk and succeeded? When was the last time your eyes filled with fire and you let out a barbaric yawp?

Whenever it was, make sure it’s not the last…or even the second-to-last (and so on).

(On a related note, I plan on reading Kathryn Schulz’s book this year.)

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  • Remnant Culture

    My son taught himself to stand, and through it he taught me something about risk and self-empowerment.