“Connectedness allows people to heal,” said Dr. Perry. “The American Dream has resulted in relational poverty. The independence espoused by the American Dream has resulted in a relationally fragmented society. We’ve lost our connectedness to each other and our connectedness to the natural world.”
So began the two-day symposium by Dr. Bruce Perry, a specialist on neuroscience and childhood trauma, that I had the great good fortunate to attend here in Santa Fe in September, brought by Dr. Jennifer Duran-Sallee, Director of The Early Childhood Center of Excellence at Santa Fe Community College and the LANL Foundation.
“The American Dream, and the relational poverty we suffer as a result,” said Dr. Perry, “underlies our vulnerability to life’s stressors. The compartmentalization of our culture has resulted in material wealth, yet poverty in social and emotional relationships.
“For thousands of generations, we lived in small multi-generational ratios of 4 present adults for every 1 child. We now live in a society where children interact with fewer and fewer adults and have increasingly fewer opportunities for emotional and relational growth.”
Dr. Perry referred to his promiscuity when it comes to theoretical tools and we spent two days spanning the spectrum of the details of neuroscience and their impacts on children and society.
The importance of early childhood, highlighted Dr. Perry, cannot be overstated and the vital roles that “safety, predictability, nurturing, and play have in shaping who we become as people, and in turn what that means for the health and welfare of a culture.”
The essence of the detailed, cutting-edge neuroscience highlights the role of the brain in social and emotional health. Dr. Perry articulated how the relational landscape in children’s lives is changing. “Children have fewer emotional, social, and cognitive interactions with fewer people. Why does this matter?
“This matters for a number of reasons. This poverty of relationships is extremely important, because of the normal neurobiological networks that you have in your brain and body that help you regulate your physiology, your stress response networks. These networks regulate whether your pancreas works, how vulnerable you are for diabetes, and how your heart works. These networks regulate how every part of your brain works, the part of the brain involved in moving, the part of the brain involved in forming relationships, the part of the brain involved in empathy, in compassion, in creativity, in productivity.
“Every single part of the brain and all the rest of your body are influenced by relational interactions.”
“Your stress response systems and the neurobiological networks are co-organized with the neurobiological networks involved in forming and maintaining relationships. Relationships have a key role in global health, creativity, and productivity.”
If a baby receives predictable love and attention for the first two months of their lives, this is a more powerful influence in emotional health than the impact of negative experiences in their lives for the next 10-12 years.
I am not an expert in neuroscience. The wealth of neuroscience research shared made me want to hold and love babies, read endlessly to and with children, weave generations together around conversation, presence and love, blow up electronic devices parents use to raise their children in isolation, hug, talk, hug some more, read, mentor, listen deeply, read with kids, engage with empathy and compassion, create intergenerational communities—and hold and love loads more babies and kids.
This piece reflects the tippy-tip of the top of the iceberg of Dr. Perry’s ideas. If they resonate with you, please read and listen to more of his work.
Incredible and what the world needs.
Below some bits of beauty from my walk to and from the conference center and my car.
Speaking of the heart of relationships in our lives, our Santa Fe Community College family wishes our dearest Gerry Harris the best in the new chapter of her life back in the UK with her grandchildren. She is missed more than words and our hearts sing that she’s with her own beautiful babies, large and small.