A little girl, for example, undertakes to water her sister’s plants. In her praiseworthy desire to do her work well and thoroughly, she fills the mug too full, and spills the water upon some books that are lying upon the table. The explanation of the misfortune is simply that her mind was filled, completely filled, with the thoughts of helping her sister. The thought of the possibility of spilling the water did not come into it at all. There was no room for it while the other thought, so engrossing, was there; and to say that she ought to have thought of both the results which might follow her action, is only to say that she ought to be older.
Sympathy as the Origin of childish Fears.
The power of sympathy in the mind of a child—that is, its tendency to imbibe the opinions or sentiments manifested by others in their presence—may be made very effectual, not only in inculcating principles of right and wrong, but in relation to every other idea or emotion. Children are afraid of thunder and lightning, or of robbers at night, or of ghosts, because they perceive that their parents, or older brothers or sisters, are afraid of them. Where the parents do not believe in ghosts, the children are not afraid of them; unless, indeed, there are domestics in the house, or playmates at school, or other companions from whom they take the contagion. So, what they see that their parents value they prize themselves. They imbibe from their playmates at school a very large proportion of their tastes, their opinions, and their ideas, not through arguments or reasoning, but from sympathy; and most of the wrong or foolish notions of any kind that they have acquired have not been established in their minds by false reasoning, but have been taken by sympathy, as a disease is communicated by infection; and the remedy is in most cases, not reasoning, but a countervailing sympathy.
Afraid of a Kitten.
Little Jane was very much afraid of a kitten which her brother brought home—the first that she had known. She had, however, seen a picture of a tiger or some other feline animal devouring a man in a forest, and had been frightened by it; and she had heard too, perhaps, of children being scratched by cats or kittens. So, when the kitten was brought in and put down on the floor, she ran to her sister in great terror, and began to cry.
Now her sister might have attempted to reason with her by explaining the difference between the kitten and the wild animals of the same class in the woods, and by assuring her that thousands of children have kittens to play with and are never scratched by them so long as they treat them kindly—and all without producing any sensible effect. But, instead of this, she adopted a different plan. She took the child up into her lap, and after quieting her fears, began to talk to the kitten.