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163 of 175 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Elegantly explaining that it's more than just genes....., April 20, 2010
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This review is from: Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential--and Endangered (Hardcover)
So much is right about the content and message of this book that I will leave it up to the reader to obtain a copy and find out for themselves.

"Born for Love" follows on the heals of the successful "The Boy who was Raised as a Dog" also penned by the Perry/Szalavitz duo. The latest book draws out several concepts that desperately need to be understood and expressed by all current and future caregivers of children. First is the fact that much of the "learning" that occurs between birth and three years of age often will not be consciously remembered, but will nevertheless influence, often strongly, one's behavior beyond childhood. This can flare up especially acutely when the adult with an abusive past finds themselves struggling to care for a child themselves. The second is the general misconception that "intelligence" allows one to overcome the psychological scars of abuse. A case in point is presented in the book of Ryan, a boy who used his intelligence to excel in his studies and in his social sphere without revealing or being able to repair his internal, disconnected emotional world, until it erupted in a cold, violent crime. For most survivors of abuse emerging toward healthier lives, recovery relies more on supportive relationships than intelligence. Third is the concept of early relationships as a "template" for future relationships. Indeed, just as half of each parent's DNA served as a template (the actual word use to describe DNA copying) for DNA found in their child, would it not be parsimonious for parental behavior to provide a template upon which the child builds his/her own emotional and behavioral repertoire? And just as mutation in DNA can lead either to new deleterious or beneficial traits, so too can the novel experience during childhood become epigenetically and neuronally "fixed" (though apparently reversibly) in ways leading to great resilience, at one extreme, due to supportive caregiving or marked instability, at the opposite end of the spectrum, due to early maltreatment. The authors further correctly emphasize the importance of kinship in child rearing with their reminder that to "be of a kind" and to "be kind" are both derived from "kin". This latter point is of concern with the increasing time spent by children in care situations not involving those of their immediate or extended family.

Given the excellent information and references presented in "Born to Love", the authors nevertheless neglect some crucial issues pertaining to the target of human empathy. As a serious foray into the developmental roots of this ability, I found the lens focused too narrowly on human-to-human interdependence. Many writing from within the 'ecopsychology' tradition are correct with their insistence that relationships beginning in the womb subsequently expand to include human caretakers and the immediate natural world around them, and finally develop into rich relationships with human and non-human alike. Thus, the targets of empathy must be encouraged, as early as possible, to include the non-human as well as the human. Children's fascination with animals is a clue to this yearning. As the authors indicate, our evolutionary history was characterized by small tribal groups, a mixture of ages involved in care taking (although with some adults always present), and a large amount of time spent immersed in the natural world even during interactions with other humans. Exclusively human-focused attempts to engender empathy will likely dead-end as it perpetuates the perceived divide between things that we must care for and nurture and those that we can wantonly consume or discard. "Born for Love" touches briefly on two cultural/social paradigms to exemplify greater relationship connections than those found in an 'average' Western culture--that of Iceland and of first nation indigenous tribes near Winnipeg, Canada. Because the historical tradition of many indigenous peoples fosters empathy not only with humanity, but with the "other" (the non-human) as well, a more fundamental, less schizophrenic interdependence is cultivated and often realized, even as it conflicts with agro-urban societies. So the latter culture gets my vote as the one more important to emulate.

If the reader finds this thread to be of interest, couple the reading of "Born for Love" with that of Jean Liedloff's "The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost". And for the adventurous, nothing cuts to the core of our societal problems dating back to prehistory like Paul Shepard's "Nature and Madness" and many of the concepts formulated by Daniel Quinn. One will find abundant ideas and guidelines for a movement towards greater sanity within these writings.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 24, 2010 10:48:21 AM PDT
What a sensitive, well articulated review of an exceptional book and a very serious topic. Thank you.

Posted on Jun 18, 2010 10:52:14 AM PDT
I echo the other commenter to heartily thank you for the concrete, additional background and am getting the book by Liedloff. Thank you!

Posted on Jul 27, 2012 6:44:59 PM PDT
Mom2two says:
Your review is exceptional. I really appreciate it.

Posted on Feb 5, 2013 6:11:59 AM PST
Great Review! Very concise! You must have gotten all A's in school. Congrats :)

Posted on Feb 10, 2013 8:01:45 PM PST
Excellent Review and thanks for highlighting such an important point.. our important and inextricable bond with the natural world.. that is so ruptured in modern societies.... well, well done

Posted on Sep 19, 2013 1:04:03 PM PDT
Kumarido says:
"follows on the heals" - intended pun or Freudian slip ??? thank you for the well written review

Posted on Oct 6, 2014 11:53:25 PM PDT
I think you might have used the word 'parsimonious' incorrectly. Otherwise, a very thorough and thoughtful review.

Posted on Apr 13, 2016 2:18:46 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Apr 13, 2016 3:24:34 PM PDT]
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