Letter to my grandson (iii)

Dear Winton

One of the constant and daily joys in my life is watching you as you explore the world around you. There is a wonderful word that comes from 14th century Middle English.

It’s maistrie.

It was used by Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales where I first came across it. It’s a wonderful word, a cross between mastery and mystery.

In the 14th century, the trade Guilds would travel from town to town performing mystery plays on the back of the cart. The plays were based on the life of Christ, which was well known, so they were not mysteries as we know the meaning of the word.  They were mysteries because mysteries referred to the secret knowledge of the Guilds of tradesmen: goldsmiths, carpenters, masons etc.

Maistrie also had the meaning of mastery, technical competence or skill. The meanings are quite closely related which is why I like the idea of maistrie.

You are developing maistrie. You are surrounded by mysteries and you are exploring them methodically and regularly until you understand them.

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The maistrie of the balloon on elastic

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The maistrie of letterboxes

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The maistrie of books with Nana Di

The manner in which you are currently exploring the world will remain extremely important throughout your life. Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of Frank D Roosevelt famously said, “The greatest gift you can give a child is curiosity.”

I want to explain why curiosity and enquiry are so important.

You are starting daycare next year and you’ll be the first Victorian cohort of children to begin under the ” No jab, no play” legislation.

This means that some children, those whose parents have refused to have them inoculated against a large number of potentially lethal childhood diseases, will not be allowed to go to your play school and so will not be a risk to you.

It also means that you have sidestepped the possible effects of the terminal and ineradicable stupidity of a small but dangerous group of people.  You see, while we can inoculate against most diseases, there is no vaccine for stupidity. Mind you, I think if there were a vaccine for stupidity, the stupid people would refuse to take it because of possible side effects.

One of the diseases that you been inoculated against is called whooping cough. I had it as very small child, probably when I was about three, and I would not wish that experience on you for anything.

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Tim aged around 3

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 This is where we lived: 30 Clifton Terrace, Wellington

I remember being wracked by bouts of seemingly endless coughing with my grandmother hovering over me like a ministering angel. I survived just as I survived chickenpox and mumps. I still remember all of them. They’re all bad experiences for a small child. Fortunately, you will be spared this because your parents understand the need to protect you and the means to do this are readily available.

Before you were born, both Nana Di and I had booster shots of our immunisation against whooping cough because we did not want to run even the slightest risk of carrying an infection which you may have caught.  Part of the reason for doing this is that both of us understand the science that underlies the idea of inoculation.

The benefits of vaccination have long been understood and they have been demonstrated by medical scientists.  This means that the information regarding the importance of vaccination has been demonstrated beyond any doubt.

This is because of the way that science works. Science involves thinking up ideas, and then examining, experimenting and testing them until they are understood, proved or disproved. Once that understanding has been reached, and generally it’s a matter of a consensus amongst a wide range of well-educated and knowledgeable people, it moves beyond being a matter of an idea and becomes the body of knowledge that intelligent and educated people use to make decisions.

Once upon a time, people believed that the earth was the centre of the universe.The Earth was surrounded by a series of rotating spheres in which the planets were embedded. This idea was based on the observations that the planets and the sun passed through the sky each day on the way around the earth.

It was science, with its habit of examination, experiment and testing that demonstrated that this was not true.

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The Ptolemaic Universe

The same occurred with the belief that the world was flat and resting on the backs of three elephants standing on a tortoise.

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Now, most people understand that the earth revolves around the sun and that it is not flat.  This understanding is based on the accumulation of verifiable evidence.

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Evidence such as this led to a marked decline in membership of the Flat Earth Society

Yet for some strange reason, there is a small but vocal group of people that has difficulty understanding science and its conclusions on a whole range of other matters, such as vaccination and climate change.

You are not going to be one of these people because you’re already developing the curiosity and methodologies of science. When confronted with something new: a gate, a bucket of pebbles or a new utensil for eating, you are beginning a series of experiments to test the nature  (and resilience) of the new object.

You’re a mover and shaker which generally means that  the first stage of your experimentation is to work out whether it can be moved or shaken. There is also a certain amount of testing of the strength and robustness of the new phenomenon, generally conducted by experimenting with bashing it up against something hard and solid.

When you are walking with Nana Di, you test the “moving and shaking” hypothesis on every gate in the street. Sometimes you’re successful, the gate opens and you have to be retrieved from someone’s front yard. If this experiment is unsuccessful, you begin exploring the possibilities of any locks or latches that may be on the gate.  You are now strong enough to lift yourself off the ground,  like someone doing chin-ups, so climbing the gate is not far off and will become part of the scientific repertoire.

When we moved to our new house at 170 Mary Street, you were seven months old and crawling. Our initial plan was to barricade the flight of stairs that lead to the upper level of the house to protect you from danger of falling down the stairs.

We decided against protecting you from this risk and decided instead to teach you how to deal with it.  You very quickly learned how to climb up the stairs and developed a fabulous technique for coming down. This involved stretching out full-length with your hands above your head and turning yourself into a small, flexible plank and sliding feet first down the stairs. It was extremely effective, very fast and very safe.

You have now abandoned this technique and are walking down the stairs, which presents a few problems as each step is still well above the knee height.

Nonetheless, you are undeterred and the maistrie is coming.

Other Letters to my grandson

 

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