You’ve probably seen it just as many times as I have; a mum and a dad in a restaurant trying to persuade their young children to sit down, stay quiet and be still. The parents bargain, plead, and get serious, all in an increasingly desperate attempt to compel their young ones to behave. Typically, it doesn’t work. Not for very long anyway.
But why? Why is it so hard for parents to convince their children to temporarily act like adults? Why do the kids never last long playing the game of let’s-all-sit-round-the-table-and-be-civilised? Here’s a tentative answer: adults have learnt to suppress their natural instincts; children haven’t.
Think about human beings on a societal level. What’s a key uniting feature of our lifestyles in the twenty-first century? Immobility. A large percentage of the world’s population is born, lives and dies in the same region. A large percentage of the world’s population also strive to own a home, and to do so they take on debt. Both of these things—a home and debt—anchor us to where we are.
You could even argue that a lot of societal mechanisms are designed to hamper mobility. Passports, visas, borders, taxes, an address. Without an address, it’s hard to get a bank account, register to vote, or take out insurance. There’s a reason those who travel the world on a regular basis are a minority. It’s hard—culturally, socially and economically, you’re punished—to be permanently on the move.
As human beings, we are not wired to stay in one place, to be immobile. In evolutionary terms, we have a preference for a light and mobile life. Only recently, due to societal and cultural pressure, have we begun to desire immobility, to strive for stasis and sameness. And the children, unable and unwilling to sit quietly around the dinner table, are just a micro example of this macro theme.
It’s easy to forget that we are animals, and more specifically, that we are tribal animals, creatures who evolved to live in small groups that roamed the terrain searching for the best conditions and who moved on when they were no longer present. As such, it’s in our very DNA to explore, to move, to question, to seek out new environments and varied stimuli. But as society develops, and as we transition from young to less young, we learn to play the game that everyone else has become so adept at. We learn to want the opposite of our instincts, to desire stability and stillness, and we try to impose that desire on everyone else. And as a consequence of this attempt to fit in with other humans, we fore-go a fundamental part of our nature; it’s need of and love for motion.