W is for Writing

| April 6, 2014

One of the major claims Rousseau makes concerning human nature in Emile is that human beings have a tendency to live safely. Parents instinctively have the urge to preserve their children through constant care and overprotection. In doing so, children are not living their lives to the fullest. What parents and educators must do is to teach their children to preserve themselves as men; in this sense, Rousseau becomes an advocate for a life of suffering, full of hardships and adversities. “To live is not to breathe; it is to act; it is to make use of our organs, our senses, our faculties, of all the parts of ourselves which give us the sentiment of our existence” (Emile, p. 42). As sentient, feeling beings, every aspect of life is meant to be experienced. While parents will take precautions to ensure that their children live, this is wholly different from Rousseau’s conception of living, in which human beings fully engage with the world around them. As the philosopher explains, taking precautions against death is a futile endeavor; we will all die eventually. What should become the central focus is teaching children how to live, instead of keeping them from dying. For Rousseau, the inclination of parents to shield their children from even the simple realities of life is doing them a grave disservice. From the second they are born, children are enveloped in their parents’ arms without even so much a moment of freedom to themselves. The first gifts children are given are chains, as Rousseau states. Those children who are able to bear both the goods and the ills of life are the ones who are best raised; they would have had parents who understood the necessity of exposing their children to every aspect of life. For Rousseau, living safely is no way to live at all. It is through experiencing all life has to offer, both the pleasures and the pains, that we truly live. The parents’ duty becomes loving their children enough to free them from those suffocating chains and allowing them to suffer.