Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Little Boy

Exertec, Napa, California, USA

August 27, 2012



This essay, Little Boy, is the fourth in the septology Rosebud: It was conceived at the same time as Unsettled.

I am indebted to Hugh who inspired this conversation, and to Anne Brest and to my mother Andee Platt who contributed material.




Depending on whom you read, speak with, subscribe to, or believe, the core elements of a human being's psyche, the essential modus operandi  which determine what and who and how  we'll be for the rest of our lives, are fully in place by the time we're five years old.

Some say it occurs much earlier than that. Some say our key conclusions and decisions about our lives and the world are formed by our experience of the birth process  - which is to say the way we are about our lives and how we deal with what comes at us  in Life, is fully locked in place as soon as we're born. Regardless of when it occurs, once it's locked in place, any so-called freedom of choice  we exercise throughout our lives, is only free within a very small set of predefined boundaries which were laid down by the time we were five years old or when we were born - depending on whose theories you subscribe to or believe.

This (saying we're really only free within a very small set of predefined boundaries) is pretty daunting when you consider how much freedom we think  we have in our lives. So our questions about, our inquiries into  our possibility of being authentically free don't pivot so much on the choices we make which allow us freedom, but rather on whether or not we can disappear, which is to say on whether or not we can recontextualize  (I love  that word) the very small set of predefined boundaries which are locked in place, and thereby limit our possibility of being authentically free from a very early age.



"Is The Little Boy Here?"



When I was four years old, my mother Andee, my sister Anthea, and I (my father Manfred stayed at home to attend to his patients, my brother Brandon wasn't yet born) made the two day train journey from Cape Town in South Africa where we lived, on holiday to visit my mother's parents, Granny Lena and Grandpa Ben in Johannesburg. Their home was a house on Raleigh Street in the suburb of Yeoville. Their address was 21 Raleigh Street, Yeoville, Johannesburg (in those days South Africa didn't have zip codes).

Classic Red Radio Flyer Tricycle
It was the grandest adventure I could imagine - both the train journey, as well as visiting Granny Lena and Grandpa Ben. As a cherry on the top  bonus (for a four year old, it was a huge  bonus), there was a tricycle (or trike  as I called it) I could ride around what seemed like an enormous yard.

One day while riding my trike, I looked through the fence and saw a boy about my age playing in the yard next door. I pedaled over to the fence. "What are you doing?" I called out to him. "Nothing" he responded, and came over to the fence. "That's a nice trike" he said. We became instant friends. I told him my name is Laurence. He told me his name is Hugh. My mother called. It was time for dinner. I said goodbye to Hugh, my new friend in Johannesburg, and went inside.

I thought a lot about Hugh that evening. Coming to visit Granny Lena and Grandpa Ben was great. But it was set up for me. Meeting Hugh, on the other hand, was all my own doing. My new friend. My new best  friend. It was the highlight of my visit - so far.

The next morning I had just finished eating breakfast when there was a knock on the door. Granny Lena walked down the hallway to see who it was. I stood at the other end of the hallway, watching her. She was a tall woman - or at least she looked tall to me at four years old. When she opened the door, there stood Hugh. He seemed to be slightly shorter than Granny Lena's thigh. Looking up at her, he asked quietly "Is the little boy  here?".

He had come looking for me! I could barely contain my delight. Here I was, away from home, in unfamiliar yet safe surroundings, and I had a visitor!  Someone ie my new friend, had come to see me. Wow! It was so cool  (granted, I might not have said it exactly that way in those words back then).

For the rest of the holiday, Hugh and I were inseparable. We could pedal to another world on our trikes, invent entirely new species with modeling clay (which, back then, we called plasticene  - pronounced plaster-seen), or invent a brand new sign language with our fingers, noses, ears, and eyes.

When Grandpa Ben passed away, Granny Lena moved into an apartment (which, back then, we called a flat)  in a block called Guildford Court on Abel Road in the suburb of Berea. Her address was 51 Guildford Court, 40 Abel Road at the corner of Tudhope Avenue, Berea, Johannesburg. As before, we occasionally made the train journey from Cape Town to Johannesburg to visit Granny Lena there. And now that I was older, I sometimes made the journey alone.

During one of my visits with Granny Lena at Guildford Court, I asked her if we could go and visit Hugh. She drove us to the Raleigh Street house, then to the house next door where Hugh lived. The house had been painted and redecorated. A new family lived there. The expectation I always held of meeting up with my best friend again, ended abruptly right then. I would never see him again. I felt a strange emotion I didn't quite recognize. Whatever it was, it kept me quiet on the drive back to Guildford Court. Granny Lena asked me if I was alright? I said I was, yet didn't say anything else.

Much later I realized the strange emotion was sadness. That was the first time I had ever really felt it.



Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind



In the normal course of events, this is all the authentic freedom we get. By the time we reach five years old, the whole catastrophe is already locked in place. However, looking at it this way is not only a good way to model the precursor  to transformation: it also calls into question whether whatever's locked in place can be unlocked. Did the little boy disappear forever at five years old? Did the sweetness, the innocence, the playfulness, the openness, the spontaneity disappear along with the little boy? Are they gone? If so, how irretrievably?

Not questioning, not inquiring into  whether or not they can be retrieved, comes at a terrible cost. When we live without distinguishing who we really are from how  we are, life simply isn't worth the effort. No it isn't - not really. With the disappearance of the little boy, the sadness, the misconclusions, the distrust, the manipulation, the inauthenticity, the going through the motions  and getting by (all unquestioned, all unexamined) become the best  determinant of what's possible in adult life. The unworkability  which then inevitably results, makes its presence felt as excuses, the blame game, and ultimately (when all else fails), resignation.

Transformation interrupts this drift - and it is  a drift, a pernicious  drift, yes? Transformation is the opportunity to unfetter freedom, joy, and anticipation, just like it was for the little boy before they were covered, overrun, hidden, and buried sometime before he turned five years old.

This is a very feasible  possibility. It's real and it's available right now. This is the miracle of transformation: that which has covered, overrun, hidden, and buried the sweetness of the little boy, the innocence of the little boy, the playfulness of the little boy, the openness of the little boy, the spontaneity of the little boy, the originality  of who we really are, disappears - which is to say it's recontextualized (I love that word), and a whole new realm of possibility becomes available.



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