Boris Cyrulnik: “Do you want responsible consumers? Secure the babies! ”

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The human being is a sponge, demonstrates Boris Cyrulnik in Souls and Seasons , his latest work devoted to psycho-ecology. Beyond his heredity, vertical transmission, the individual is built above all horizontally, depending on his environment, and this from the womb of his mother. Then the father, the family, the school, then the stories contribute to its development. This is so true, continues the neuropsychiatrist, that tangible elements such as size and sex vary according to practices and contexts.

Also read: Boris Cyrulnik: “Everyone will have to reinvent a mourning ritual”

But then, faced with the current climate threat, how can we fundamentally change our behavior so that each of us abandons the logic of domination and overconsumption for more respect and integration? “By securing the mother and the family nest during the first three years of life. Society is increasingly shaping anxious people who are incapable of thinking about a constructive social project and who lock themselves in a digitized solitude. ” End of violence, overpopulation, modification of the masculine: in his fascinating work, the resilience specialist shows how humanity evolves under the influence of external factors.

Boris Cyrulnik, you mention three niches contributing to the construction of a human being. The sensory niche or microsystem, the affective niche or mesosystem and the symbolic niche or exosystem. Explanations.

Together with several neurobiologists, we have established that what a being experiences between conception and third year largely shapes who they are. We call it the Sensory Niche of the First 1000 Days. For example, we have observed that if the mother is very stressed during her pregnancy, the cortisol that she secretes enters the amniotic fluid and weakens the fetus. And do you know what is the major cause of this stress? It is not work, even if it happens that the mother fears losing her job after maternity leave. No, this stress is mainly due to loneliness. An actual or felt loneliness. That is to say that today’s mothers pay dearly for their independence and the absence around them of clan and solidarity, specific to our modern civilization.

On this subject: Birth, all about the mother

But the father is more and more present with the child, isn’t he?

Yes, if the socio-cultural environment allows it. Here too, all the studies show that, in the second niche, the emotional niche, if the father constitutes a second secure attachment figure, the child develops in a harmonious and solid manner. But beware, in this slice of life that precedes entry into nursery or school, verbal ecology, that is to say what is exchanged between parents is also decisive. The child will not have the same view of the world at all if his parents complain about illnesses, risks and difficulties or if they are looking forward to the upcoming holidays or holidays. Failing to understand everything, the little ones, who are real sensory radars, very strongly perceive the climate of the conversation. Then, early childhood structures, school and neighborhood life consolidate – or weaken – this construction.

Read about it: Aussie decodes babies’ crying

Then comes the third niche, that of stories, beliefs and ideologies …

This third, more abstract niche relates to the presentation of the world. Here too, it all starts at home, with what parents tell and tell each other. If, and how, they evoke the extended family, politics, society, religion, etc. If, and how, the father and the mother are different, open the debate, allow themselves nuances. It is at this moment that the language of the child is constructed. If the family dialectic is fluid and respectful, the child will count around 1000 words at 3 years old and grow to 10,000 words at 5 years old. It’s a real explosion that allows him to approach school like a game! But if family exchanges are poor and tense, the child will arrive in kindergarten, at age 3, with 200 words and there is a good chance that school will be, for him, a punishment and a humiliating experience.

In your book, you stress this necessary difference between the two parents and show that, for two generations, the father has lost his authority. Too much in your eyes?

Let’s say that every progress has its negative consequences. When I was 20 in the 1950s, we were guaranteed to boys that we were bound to encounter war as we grew older. We built ourselves with this idea of ​​violence and we valued learning how to fight with fists, even intellectuals for whom I was a doctor. As a result, the roles between men and women were very defined. Since the 1970s, violence has deserted Western society, for the first time in its history, and force is no longer an element of power, it has been replaced by degrees obtained in school.

Which is encouraging, isn’t it?

This is good, obviously, because it is the sign of a more evolved society, but, as young girls are more stable than boys thanks to their XX chromosomes and, above all, more quickly mature than them, because their puberty begins two years before male puberty, they perform better in school and occupy more and more positions of responsibility.

On this theme: Adolescents are not more violent than before, they are more isolated

All of this is great for equal opportunities. The trouble is that in the face of this feminized society, more and more young men are losing ground. In Japan for example, 30% of men under 30 avoid any sexual encounter so as not to be enslaved by a woman! They isolate themselves and buy electronic distractions so as not to risk a relationship and a family. We see a similar disillusionment in the West, among young men who have been a little too pampered by their parents and who are not ready to take up the challenges, especially intellectual ones, that young girls face with much more ease.

Would you like to go back to the world before?

No, of course, but it would be good for primary, secondary and university schools to take better account of these learning differences between girls and boys – the boy is more motor, the girl more scholar – and rebalances the process of learning. In the end, it is about social balance.

About this question: School failure is hell, what to do?

You divide the sexes a lot. Yet elsewhere in the book you show how gender determinism is not inexorable, but context-bound.

Indeed, on the biological level, there is not strictly speaking a man or a woman, but beings who have more male hormones and others who have more female hormones. We realized this perfectly when, in the early 1990s, we went to visit the terrible Romanian orphanages, in which 100,000 children had been left to fend for themselves, without care. It was almost impossible to tell the girls from the boys, because when the living conditions get tougher, the body becomes more masculine. Conversely, when the context softens, as on some paradisiacal islands, the body becomes more feminine. Therefore, sending the male back to his testosterone is stupid, because his behavior is not linked to his hormones, but to his upbringing and the context in which he grew up.

In the same way, you observe, the people of the South are not smaller because of the climate, but because of their activities …

Exactly, the size of a population is not linked to its geographic location, but to its occupations. If from an early age, you spend your days standing in the fields or in front of an industrial chain, your conjugation cartilages suddenly calcify and your legs contract. If, on the other hand, you spend your days reading sitting on school benches, this calcification is progressive and allows your legs to lengthen.

On the other hand, the climate can act on the felt happiness, and this contrary to what one would tend to imagine …

After observing that Tahiti has the highest number of suicides in the world, we investigated and observed that the mountain populations, forced to show solidarity in the face of the harsh climate and production conditions, are happier than the populations of a plain where life is sweeter, the fruit of the earth more generous. We come back to the notion of the comfort of young men now spared from violence. They are quieter, but they are not happier. It would seem, therefore, that human beings need to struggle to experience the satisfaction of existing.

A struggle or a war which, you write, could become a reality again in the light of overpopulation and depletion of resources.

The history of demography is fascinating. In 1950, New York was the only megalopolis with more than 10 million inhabitants. Today, 28 cities exceed this figure, especially in Asia. 100,000 years ago, the number of Homo sapiens was estimated at 1 million. We were 2 billion in 1900 and will soon reach 8 billion in 2030! When humanity was nomadic, it was first regulated by climatic variations (glaciations and drought). Then, in the Neolithic, once men settled down and created the principle of family – before, the children of nomads were raised by the group – it was epidemics that slowed down population growth. Since the industrial era, advances in medicine and urban sanitation have contributed to a kind of limitless population growth, while natural resources are not eternal.

Three scenarios are therefore open to us, but as I am not a diviner, I will not risk myself to decide! We are heading either towards the century of plagues and other pandemics, of which covid is a beginning. Or towards the century of wars and dictatorships. Or towards a new Renaissance where the arts and philosophy will determine our actions and reduce our energy expenditure. Securing babies from conception could help usher in this enlightened era!

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