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Albert Einstein - Humiliation and the disastrous consequences

Humiliation is aimed at the self-esteem
Humiliation is aimed at the self-esteem
©: Stephanie Hofschlaeger,

Humiliation or mental oppression respectively by unsympathetic and egocentric teachers does great damage to the impressionable, young mind, which very often have disastrous effects on their later life. (Albert Einstein)

What does Einstein say with this statement?

Whether teachers, youth workers, educators or parents - Einstein addresses here a very specific form of educational style between adults and children. He draws attention to the damage that is done to the young child’s mind in the form of a particular parenting style. Hereby he refers to the mental state of the child, which can impact on its entire life. Little things, little humiliations, often inconsiderate comments by the adults, can have immense implications for the child's development. Much of that often becomes only obvious, when the child grows into adulthood (that is if anybody, at this age, still examines the child’s upbringing). Causes of depression, feeling of inferiority or fears have their initial causes in such humiliations experienced during childhood and adolescence.

What is humiliation?

The humiliation is aimed at the self-esteem of the child, with the intention to break its self-esteem, dignity and ultimately "break" the will of the young.

You do not even need to exercise physical force – after all that would be a criminal offense. Exerting mental and psychological violence is much more subtle. In this context, it is enough to make a few contemptuous statements, certain derogatory gestures or even worse, make those humiliating acts or statements publicly (before class, peers, or a group of people).

  • How stupid can you be

  • Born stupid

  • You can’t do that anyway

  • You are just too stupid

These are just a few examples and perhaps you might remember, statements you have used yourself without thinking much of them. For the affected person, however, the impact can be massive and a burden for the rest of their lives.

What's intellectual oppression?

Children are very creative; they want to try new things, experiment and learn. Children should be allowed to develop their opinions and attitudes, without having it forced upon them. Children want to be taken seriously with all their views and opinions. However, the mental oppression begins already by not listening to the child in the first place and dismiss one or other idea as stupid, crazy or farfetched. How can a child freely develop if it learns to be afraid of saying the wrong thing?

Why is it come to such humiliating situations? And what are the consequences?

  • The educator/teacher/youth leader himself experiences a lack of needs which deficiencies he tries to compensate. He deliberately opted to humiliate, to fulfil his need for power. (Wanting to be someone, be important, and have something to say). All he can see is himself, his personal unsated needs (self-centeredness) but he does not see the child with its needs of appreciation, needs to learn and its questions.

  • The consequences for the participants/student/child are uncertainty (I'm doing it all wrong, I am dis-abled, and I’m rejected). This attitude, of course, renders the child afraid of criticism, afraid to make mistakes, which in turn leads to inhibitions to tackle or try anything (again) in the future. The self-confidence of the child has been damaged - in some cases, for life.

how I am dealing with young people
How I am dealing with young people

Tips for youth work

  • Those thoughts on the subject of humiliation I want to put to every youth worker’s heart. Even though, most of you will say, “I love my kids and appreciate them”. I am sure, each of you has already said or done something, innocently, thoughtlessly, which hurt another person and exerted mental violence. Reflective practice, being aware how I am dealing with young people is the first step to working more consciously with children and youth.

  • There is an exercise for you: try to recall situations of your own life, where you experienced similar humiliations or discouragements. How did you feel? What did you think? Which consequences did it have for your future life? Maybe that is the only way for you to empathize with the child and understand how it must feel after such an experience.

  • Be understanding and be patient: the child/student doesn’t have your (life) experience, doesn’t have your knowledge. Therefore, it can’t know the same things as you do. I am used to saying, children cannot look around the corner because they have not been around the corner.

  • Try not to be self-centred. Always do your best to see the student as an equal member.

  • Never dismiss or repress the opinion of somebody else.

  • Accept the child for who he is and support him

  • If you need to humiliate a child to satisfy your own needs, youth work is not for you. Walk away before you do any (more) damage.

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