Monday, November 26, 2007
Drinking With Gusto
Yesterday, my son and I were watching Simpson, one of our cats, drinking from his water bowl. I commented that perhaps we should get him some fresh water, suggesting to my son that it might taste better to the cat. I dumped the contents of the bowl, ran some cool new water into it and then we watched again. Simpson sniffed the water, thought about what to do for a long moment, then proceeded to drink heartily. I explained to my son that Simpson was now drinking 'with gusto.'
Zachary had not heard that term before, so he asked me what it meant. Never one to pass up an opportunity to teach my son about some of life's riddles, I set out to give him an in-depth explanation:
Cats hate water, I said. When they step in water inadvertently, they look at their paws with disgust and try to shake the liquid off. They hate to get wet under any circumstance, and will always avoid water if they can -- except, of course, when they are thirsty.
Why is that, I asked my son. He didn't know.
The reason, I explained to him, is that cats large and small, wild and domesticated, have 'gusto sacks' in their cheeks. When they are thirsty and bend to drink from a water bowl, or from a puddle or stream, small amounts of gusto are secreted into the mouth of the cat, and the water then tastes good to the animal. The cat somehow doesn't have its normal aversion to water, now that it is drinking the liquid 'with gusto.' It's a marvelous evolutionary thing. Biologists are still trying to figure out the flavour of the gusto, so far with no success.
Is it fish flavour? Chicken? Cat butt? I'm afraid I don't have the answer.
Isn't this story amazing? Perhaps a bit hard to believe? I sure hope it is hard to believe, because it isn't true. I mean the story is true, but the gusto sacks part of the story isn't true. My son didn't believe me, and neither should you. Someone, somewhere, might believe this story if they thought that I had some sort of knowledge that they might not be party to, or if they didn't know what the expression 'with gusto' meant, or if they simply weren't very discriminating in what they believed or in whom they trusted to state things in which they could believe.
I have long tried to explain to my son that he should be very careful about what and whom he believes. All sorts of nonsense is spouted by all sorts of people. Some of this 'information' may have a smattering of truth to it, but it might have become corrupted via many re-tellings. Some might simply be lies designed to trick the gullible or have them believe something convenient to the teller of the tale. Whatever the reason, lies are lies. Whether they are told deliberately as falsehoods or whether they are held to be true by the teller makes no difference. The lies might be mostly innocent and of no particular danger to anyone, but it is important to be able to tell the difference between fact and fiction.
I have taught my son from the time he was but a tyke, to develop bullshit filters, to screen everything he hears, and verify, verify, verify. If something doesn't pass a smell test at first telling, it probably isn't true. And if it seems as if it might be true but is unusually harsh or unusually laudatory, check the motives and the agenda of the teller. That will help narrow things down as to whether there is any merit to an assertion.
Why do I tell my son such things? My mother, when she was alive, used to ask me that. Why do I spin these silly, and sometimes quite elaborate tales around my son. Well, part of it is that I enjoy a good joke and to me being able to deliver utter nonsense in a perfectly serious, deadpan fashion is in itself funny. Secondly, it gives me an opportunity to observe how my son parses information and how he applies the filters that I have tried to help him develop.
There is one problem with all this: my son is turning the tables and is now testing me regularly. He hasn't fooled me yet, but there will be a first time, won't there? I hope I will have the good sense and the grace to laugh at having been tricked, just as I expect my son to act after I have spun yet another tall tale in an attempt to trick him.
There is one good thing about this too. My son has developed a good sense of humour and an appreciation for the human condition, notably the foibles of an imperfect race, on an imperfect planet, in a chaotic universe.