The Kipling CRITICAL THINKING METHOD is ESSENTIAL in all parts of our life. It is important that we question:
- What is our Purpose?
- Why are we here?
- Where do I find meaning in life?
- How can I become better?
- When will I set my goals to build a legacy?
- Who will I associate with to help me build the best career, the best family, the best health?
Let’s be encouraged by Rudyard Kipling’s, The Elephant’s Child
Six honest serving men (Persons)
I keep six honest serving-men
They taught me all I knew;
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.
I let them rest from nine till five,
For I am busy then,
As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
For they are hungry men.
But different folk have different views;
I know a person small—
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!
She sends’em abroad on her own affairs,
From the second she opens her eyes—
One million How’s, two million Where’s,
And seven million Whys!
Rudyard Kipling, The Elephant’s Child
This poem is a tribute to a child’s curiosity. It makes the point that we as we grow up – our curiosity reduces.
In the first stanza – “servant” mean’s serving men (or persons) and he emphasises the six main words – Who, What, Where, When, Why and How – who are the hard working men (persons) and who have helped him learn all he knows. North, South, East and West- signify all the places they have taken him all over the world.
His “serving men” (persons) are the questions he asks of the things around him: “what?” “why?” “when?” “how?” “where?” and “who?” These “men”/questions are honest because this is the best way to objectively learn the truth. The author seems open to learning new things and seeking the truth.
The word ‘knew” is used in the past tense. It signifies that although he used their help as a child –as he becomes older he often gives these 6 honest serving men a little rest.
He ignores them from 9 to 5 and breakfast, lunch and tea. He actually means that as we get older we become more set in our ways and ignore or limit our curiosity and give these servants bigger and bigger rests.
Learning and debating can take a back seat in our daily ‘busyness’ and we become complacent about knowledge. We are more prepared to accept other points of view – without question or even challenging the very common sense or logic of these views.
The author essentially says that his questioning brain doesn’t actually function anymore, but is pretty much always “resting.” He no longer questions at all; he simply accepts his foundation of knowledge and does not challenge new claims or information as they come along. This is a satirical way of criticising adults who become complacent about the world around them and become entirely “busy” and caught up in the motions of the daily grind without stopping to think about the significance of their actions or the events of the world around them.
However children are curious – they ask questions all the time and don’t give their minds a rest. The 10 million men refer to the child that keeps the servants busy all the time. Children’s questions are endless.
He emphasises the continuing curiosity of children. They ask questions from the time they wake up to the time they sleep. They even ask questions about questions or before you have answered them – 1 million why’s, who’s, when’s, where’s, what’s and How’s.
Overall the poem is a tribute to children and the childhood stage of life. And he challenges adults to continue to be curious, to ask questions, to obtain the wisdom to understand and to make the best decisions when required. He encourages adults to not be complacent and to seek the logic, the consequences, the benefits, the context, the suggested solutions about all topics and issues – particularly the most pressing and important ones.
The second half of the second stanza and the final stanza are both talking about the refreshing curiosity of children. The speaker says he has become too lazy to take an active interest in the world around him, but his daughter (or some little girl he knows) has not. She is always looking around her and asking questions. This is like the two-year-old who can’t seem to stop asking “but why?” Saying that “different folk have different views” suggests that the speaker sees the child’s young toddler perspective as equal to his own, perhaps even superior.
Overall, the poem is a reflection on the wisdom of children (who see the world around them with fresh eyes) and the stagnation of the adult spirit as life goes on.
This poem is wake up call to us that the questions WHO, WHY, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN AND HOW are critical to daily life and to ensure that we question, examine and collate what we find so as to ensure we make the best decisions, we can – and have a logical position on any issue and that we can argue and stand up for these decisions and opinions.
The Six Honest Men help us determine the truth about ourselves, others and the issues that determine the fate of the world.