Childhood templates: A dash of ignorance and half a cup of powerlessness

 Julie Scipioni and Angela Scipioni, Co-authors, Iris & Lily (circa 1970)

Julie Scipioni and Angela Scipioni, Co-authors, Iris & Lily (circa 1970)

In writing and in most forms of creative production, artists use templates as a way to pre-define a collection of attributes. In a document, a template might include the font style and size, the margins, the size of paper. In graphic design, the template might also include a color palette, a background image, and styles of animation, among other things. 

Templates also exist in other disciplines, such as cooking. Betty Crocker was famous for this. The fruit crisp recipe is a template, and provides the basic structure for a hot delicious fruit dessert. Want apple crisp? Add apples. Prefer blueberry crisp? Omit the apples and add blueberries. Replicate the template, changing just one or two of the attributes, and you can be assured of the outcome. 

Templates simplify because they save you the trouble of making certain decisions, leaving a little room for variety without requiring you to go back to the drawing board each time.

Templates can be good and useful. Except when they're not. 

When we're children, we make observations about the world and then we draw conclusions about how things work and how people behave. We essentially create templates for how to successfully live our lives.

Similar to other kinds of templates, childhood templates are collections of information about the world and ourselves, formed in us when we are small and powerless, ignorant and innocent. We come to accept this information without question, based on our experience. The problem is that our childhood templates are formed by, well, children. Yet most of us take them with us into our adulthood without ever really updating them or challenging them.

Following childhood templates is like letting a four-year-old run your life.

In the Iris & Lily series, both title characters had formed a template of their beliefs about themselves and about life. For Iris the world was overpowering, but she learned how to create safety for herself by ingratiating herself to others in order to gain favor and protection. Lily saw the world as cruel, as a place where she didn't fit in and wasn't welcome, and shrank into bitterness in response. Iris adapted to her world through engagement; Lily adapted to hers by withdrawing.

As readers follow Iris and Lily, watching them test and apply their childhood templates to grown-up decisions, it becomes apparent that their perspectives are skewed and the decisions they make are only making matters worse for them.

It's easy to see the templates that other apply, and we can clearly see the mistakes they make and the trouble into which they are headed by making them. In fact, it's much easier to see someone else heading for disaster than it is to see when we ourselves are doing it. 

That's one of the gifts of Iris & Lily: it exposes the distorted beliefs that the main characters hold dear, and then challenges readers to question and dismantle the childhood templates that perpetuate a sense of powerlessness or fear in their own lives. I recently spoke on this topic with James Miller of Lifeology Radio and we explored the idea of childhood templates and the role they play in our lives. Check it out!