I've had this conversation a lot lately, whether it be with family or with friends, about how you learn everything you need to know about life within your first six years. In biology, it's called insight. In the real world, it's called simple learning.
Animals, in general, have the tendency to use what they have learned from previous mistakes for the future. A monkey may not eat a bitter tasting leaf after trying it for the first time and realizing its undesirable characteristics. The same is true for humans. We grow from what we understand are mistakes, and then we try to prevent that mistake from ever happening again. But what does this have to do with the tender age of six, and why do we learn everything by that time?
Well, for one, we learn to walk. Walking not only takes great physical skill, but it also takes great mental skill. Our brains work in complex ways to make stepping a calculated process; we learn not to topple over and how to balance our body weight so we can get to where we want to go. In many ways, walking is the first step, no pun intended, in decision making. As we grow older, and the problems we face are no longer with whom we share our 64 crayon box with the special pencil sharpener, and instead involve all that gross teenager and adult stuff we see in movies, we start to weigh our choices. Just like how we walk, we have to balance our weight in one want versus another want. For instance, you may find that you ask yourself whether you want to focus strictly on your academics or on that super-amazing band you practice with in your parents' garage. Maybe you want to save money for a car when you get your license instead of for those really cute shoes at the mall. We weigh our choices just as we walk; slow at first, analyzing what each result will yield in our benefit, and then fast, when speeding to reach mommy and daddy when we're three is like speeding to graduate high school.
We also learn how to communicate. Before any words are remotely comprehensible in our brains, we use our hands, our faces, our eyebrows, our mouths, our feet, our laughs, and our cries to tell others what we want and when we want it. Studies have proven that the easiest time for a person to learn a language is within their first six years of life. Europeans have already begun to realize the importance of this; they start teaching English to their students as early as kindergarten. But what is the importance of communication? If everything was as easy as crying to get what we want like what happened when we were babies, then why don't we do it now? It is not the actual type of communication that is important to learn in the first six years. It is how that communication allows us to form relationships with those we care about. Crazy concept, huh? A baby uses his hands to reach for a bottle or rattle. A teenager uses his hands to reach for a saxophone or a paintbrush. We communicate through our movements. If we raise an eyebrow at our friends behind our backs, then we are communicating a sense of arrogance. If we happily clap for those we support, even when they don't know that we are, then that shows that we are in awe and overjoyed.
And finally, by the age of six, we learn how to love. And I don't mean love in the sense that we look at Tom Hiddleston or Bradley Cooper or every member of One Direction and instantly want to know their life story and define that as love. I mean the love that involves caring about our family, our friends, and whomever we meet from those years and onward. The love that a baby shows by caressing its mothers face when it's ready for bed. The love that that the three year old shows for the animals the first time she visits the show. The love that the 6-year-old shows for her future dream of becoming a doctor. An activist. A teacher. A painter. A dreamer. That passion, that drive... that all stems from what we learn and from whom we learn in our first six years. If we are surrounded by love, then we will know love. Unfortunately, the opposite can happen. But because of the wealth of happiness that usually surrounds you in your tender toddler years, then you can bet that you know everything you need to from that first important period. No AP test, SAT, entrance exam, college essay, boyfriend, teacher, high school friend, or book can tell you anything that you don't already know about yourself from your first six years. Because in that time, you know how to step towards your goal. You know how to communicate, no matter how minimal or how simple that communication is. And you know how to love. And those, my friends, are the most important lessons of all.