Insights from Childhood to Adulthood

There are two young children in my close association recently: a grandchild and a colleague's child.

My granddaughter is now 2 ½ and my colleague's child is nine months. What I'm finding remarkable, and I must confess, somewhat intimidating, is the level of attention they engage when they look at me. Both of them exhibit this wide-eyed awareness. I don't feel either judged or objectified. I feel seen.

This pure awareness goes away. For children a little older, I'm mostly a cipher. I'm a generic adult that is ignored unless I'm identified as being able to provide useful service. With adults I'm compartmented. If I'm a stranger, it's binary at first: safe or possible threat. If I'm familiar, I have an identity to which my behaviors are assigned. I'm a known set of characteristics that don't get particular attention until I behave outside of others' expectations of me; that is, uncharacteristically.

I'm not judging this characterization that takes place with adults. I do it myself unconsciously. And I'm not one to suggest we all return to some magical childhood place of discovery and innocence. We need the reflexive response in order to stop the car when someone steps in front of it. So much of our doing is rooted in reflexes, biases, heuristics, habits. Most of what we call, responsible, are the habits of duty, or put another way, the ability to respond.

My granddaughter is already moving into the stage of recognition and response. When she sees me, right away she categorizes me, "Granda." She still has a lot to learn about me, and I can see her awareness as she takes in that learning.

When I read or watch a video of Caleb Gategno, an amazingly insightful educator in the 20th century, I can respond like my granddaughter. I recognize him, and there's still so much for me to learn from him. Gategno hypothesized all learning begins with awareness. In earlier posts, I've quoted Ada Yonath saying the same.

In our work at Kairos Cognition, we've identified seven cognitive awarenesses. May I encourage an exercise that can make us more present and less reactive? Here's a sample exercise for each.


Bring up your attention to what's coming to your ears. You don't need to be in a quiet space or even still. I did it today on my bicycle. Amid the sounds of vehicles passing and my tires on the road, I became aware of birds chirping.


I'm in the room where I work every day. There's a small table of the sort often called a coffee table where I set my laptop when it's not . . . in my lap. I'm just noticing a strip of wood isn't a single piece but is several pieces joined in a sophisticated tongue and groove. I have had this table for decades.


I was deleting words from this section so I could start again. I found myself having taken my right hand off the keyboard, resting my wrist on the edge of the laptop -- fingers in the air -- and tapping the delete key -- not with a finger movement -- but with my whole hand moving up and down to strike the key with my little finger. Why do I do that? When I delete one letter, I move my finger the way I was taught in typing class.


I find myself paused again having taken both hands off the keyboard and resting them by my side. I realized I'm fatigued from reading. I'm paradoxically a highly effective reader with an unusually short attention span for it. When this sentence is finished, I'm getting up for a walk.


During my break I found myself narrating my movements to the cats. I told them I was realizing my wandering wasn't enough. I was craving some aerobic exercise, the muscles around my eyes were fatigued from the screen time, and I needed distance vision. We all went outside.


When I finished Talker, Associative was next, but I realized I was on a Sequential roll which I had primed by listing these awareness out before I tried to compose them. I decided to move up the Sequential heading to address it, as I was realizing that following a set of Sequential prompts was moving me through the composition.


However, moving the Sequential category was an Associative response because I changed it from its categorical order to where it arrived contextually. I took Sequential out of its sequential order to address it when it caught my attention. A classic Associative move.

From having engaged this exercise and experiencing this awareness, I'm feeling a bit of frisson. I'm experiencing a small buzz of excitement from this accumulation of little awarenesses. I've been doing this work on cognitive preferences for 25 years and I can still learn something.


Kairos for Business FAQ Terms Privacy