Taming the wild beasts

Barbara Fisher

For eight years, I  trained tigers for a living.  Most people think this is done via brute strength. 

The traditional image of a big cat trainer features a brawny man with a chair and a whip and maybe a pistol at the ready.  As a small, nonvilolent vegetarian woman who at her strongest could manage one pull up,

I can attest to the fact that this is untrue.

To train a tiger, you take it from its mother at a very young age, right as its eyes are opening. 

You hand feed it and spend hours with it training it to think that all good things come from you.  Once it knows this, you can firmly impose your own structure over its innate wild sense of how the world works, and make it do what you want.  You can even make it think that what you want is what it wants.  No physical abuse is necessary.

Once this is properly accomplished, the tiger will be extremely manageable in certain situations, even around small children.  This might not seem likely, but I’ve seen it and done it myself.

Could this tiger go out into the wild and fend for itself?  Not likely.  It is completely dependent on the structure you have created for it in order to function.

My tiger training days are long past at this point, but I see the same system at work every day.  Not perpetrated on tigers, but on American human beings.

Children are born with a wealth of advantages gained over millions of years of evolution, and one of the most intense of these is the desire to learn everything they can. This is no secret.  Anyone who has been around a small child can see this active pursuit of knowledge at work.

They also have the natural predilection towards morality, because this is another evolutionary advantage of us social apes. 

We naturally depend on each other to survive, so we are born caring about each other. They begin by developing strong attachments to their closest associates.

We waste no time in telling them that those attachments make them weak and dependent.  It is important that they learn to “self soothe” and to not look to the people who love them for comfort.  This is the first step in their training.

As soon as possible we send them to school, for if we don’t how will they learn to socialize with people who are the exact same age and from the same socioeconomic backgrounds as themselves? 

They certainly wouldn’t learn that by spending time in their communities with their families. 

Then we teach them that they are wrong to assume that learning is active and self directed.  NO.  They must sit quietly and passively accept information at the pace it is given by a professional.   

Learning isn’t fun, it is a chore that requires a lot of self control, and the ability to change interests as the group dictates. Sure, you want to keep talking about dinosaurs with your friend, but unfortunately early childhood is not the time to practice healthy interpersonal relationships.  It’s about learning to submit to the leader’s desires without question or complaint.  Those who take to this readily are rewarded, and those who don’t are shamed. 

We adults have all learned these lessons well, but what have we lost in this?  Could it be something similar to what a trained tiger loses by being severed from its own wild nature? Perhaps it’s time we let the children teach us.

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