Childhood influences

Question of the Day, August 29-30 2015 ~ The Environment You Grew Up In

How much do you feel the environment you grew up in influences the way you live now compared to what you’ve experienced since becoming ‘independent’?

Glad to see independent in quotes ;).

So many levels to this, so many aspects.

I’ll try and give a bit of a hint at some of them.

I spent most of my youth in small rural communities, and I had a couple of years in a town purpose built to build and operate a power station.

For the first 5 years I was tongue tied, and could not make an R sound, and after the flap of skin under my tongue was cut, it took me several years to learn how to make an r sound consistently and I never did work out how to whistle or sing in tune.

A few family stories that had a deep influence on me.

One story was from my father’s paternal grandfather, whose story went that he refused to “doff his hat” to the lord of the manor, so at age 15 his yeoman farmer father paid for an assisted passage to the colonies, where he went to get as far away as possible from that class based system of status based upon birth rather than any sort of merit. Story goes that after a sea voyage of almost 5 months he arrived in Auckland New Zealand with 5 shillings to his name and the clothes he wore. So there was great value placed upon independence of action, and evaluating people on the basis of actions in reality rather than happen-stance of birth or circumstance.

From my father’s maternal grandparents came a different story. They had been very wealthy in England, and had lost most of their fortune in the stock market crash of 1860. Rather than declaring bankruptcy and saving most of the family money, they had paid all debts, and bought a parcel of land in the colonies to start again. What they had no idea of until they arrived was that the land was covered in forest, with a 300 ft high canopy, there were no roads, no housing. The grand piano they bought with them spent 4 years in a tent. The hardships of that life broke the spirit of some in the family, but not others. There was a determination from my grandmother that by the 6th generation they would be back.

My maternal grandfather was a sea captain. He was born in Camberwell in London (a cockney), the third generation of his family to rise to the rank of captain aboard sailing ships. So many stories from that side about adventures at sea. He arrived in NZ as captain of a sailing vessel, liked it here, and decided to stay and run coastal traders in NZ.

My maternal grandmother was of German extraction, from a small town about 80 miles south of Berlin, whose family escaped persecution in the 1860s to go to a new land where freedom had a better chance.

For each of those and the generation that followed, life in New Zealand was tough. A long way from the centres of technology and culture that they were used to. There was a real need to be able to do whatever needed doing, because it took too long to wait for something to come from Europe by ship. So there was a strong tradition of questioning everything, examining everything, being able to fix anything that broke with whatever was available, and being able to make anything that wasn’t already present.

My dad labelled himself as a “jack of all trades and master of none”. At various times in his life he worked as a butcher, a builder, a shepherd, a farm worker, a farm manager, a farmer, a forester, a lumberjack, a dock-worker, a taxi driver, a truck driver, a shopkeeper, a boiler-man, a fisherman (crayfish, whitebait, eels, flounder, and anything he could catch by setting nets).

Dad and mum were both heavily involved in community affairs. One or other of them was out at various committee meetings most nights of the week.

Both my parents were from large families, mum had 8 siblings and dad 7. At one point I had 46 first cousins that I knew, and lots of second cousins, great aunts and uncles etc. One family reunion on Dad’s Howard side drew 450 attendees and that was about a third of those we knew of.

So family was at least as important as community, and often larger.

We might be just the five of us for dinner one night, and 40 the next. Large gatherings could happen on short notice.

I spent most of my childhood on farms. So by age 4 I was driving tractors. By age 8 I was driving tractors, bulldozers and 4WDs. By age 12 I was driving every vehicle on the farms, and spending 12 hour days on tractors alongside the men during hay-making season, and doing the 10 mile drive along back country roads to feed out to the young-stock when dad was busy on the home farm (even though the legal driving age was 15). I learned the first rule with any law, if you need to break it, don’t get caught.

I was first allowed to use a gun at age 7. By age 10 I was allowed anywhere on our farm, and by age 13 I had free range of all the neighbouring farms as well – giving me about 2,000 acres to roam over after school and before dark – looking for anything edible, rabbits, hares, birds.

Dad taught me to question everything. If something wouldn’t work, then what assumption(s) are you making that leads you to an invalid conclusion, how can you test it and replace it with something more useful?

Dad also taught me how to look after animals, how to learn their ways, how to respect them, and how to butcher them when required.

Mum taught me how to cook and sew and tend the garden and the fowls (we kept several varieties of hens, turkeys, geese, guinea fowl and quail). By age 9 I was making dolls clothes for my younger sisters using the old Singer treadle sewing machine.

If anything broke on the farm, and dad was too busy, he would usually let me have a go at fixing it, and sometimes I managed to get it going again.

So there are several threads in here of a deep disrespect for authority, a deep belief in my own ability to work anything out given enough time, a willingness to “give it a go”, and a deep commitment to society and to justice (as distinct from the law).

I don’t know that I ever have become independent.

I have certainly always been keen to extend my capabilities, and in doing so, I have always been aware of just how much more I don’t know than I do. It has been 60 years of: the more I know, the more I know I don’t know and the less certain I become about many of the things that once seemed certain. So even the idea of truth is now extremely suspect to me, it seems to be essentially a childish illusion.

When I left home I bought the house next to my parents.

I stayed there until my dad died and my mum decided to shift in with one of my sisters.

And while I continue to study new things every day, I am acutely aware of how dependent we all are upon the work of many others for society to function. And for all the successes of markets and capitalism, the limits of that system are now very clear to me, and I am confident beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that markets and monetary thought now cause at least as much misery and injustice as they prevent, and that is going to get worse. It is a mode of thought and social organisation that has past its peak of societal utility and needs to be replaced sooner rather than later.

I guess, in a very real sense, I didn’t become independent, I became sufficiently aware to see that independence is an illusion, for all the fact that my skill sets and resource base make me appear independent to many – I know that for the illusion that it is.

[followed by]

If you cut down all the trees, and put pavement over the ground, it becomes “uncluttered”.

“Uncluttered” is a sign of a biological desert 😉

Living systems are cluttered and chaotic.

My mind is ALIVE!!! (So is my desk!)


(I have a poster I like – “A clean desk is a sign of a sick mind!”)

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) with reasonable security, tools, resources and degrees of freedom, and reasonable examples of the natural environment; and that is going to demand responsibility from all of us - see
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