Monday, February 05, 2007

Who will have learned more, the father or the son?

I drive my son to school every day. It saves him about a fifteen minute walk, and it is on the way to my office anyway. School starts at 8:00 am, but he likes to be there a little early to socialize with his friends. Today, on the first day of the second semester, he wanted to be there even earlier. He was excited all weekend long, telling his mother and me how he was looking forward to getting back to school and starting a new semester with new subjects and new teachers.

I'm glad about all this, of course. It certainly wasn't that way for me in grade nine. When I entered high school in 1959, it was not a terribly good experience, overall. At my first high school, in Port Colborne, Ontario, I felt even more isolated than I had in the three elementary schools I had attended.

With my very obviously German name, 'Siegfried,' I had gotten used, during my childhood, to being called a Nazi by people with memories still rooted in 1939 - 1945. The fact that I was born after the Second Wold War ended was apparently not germane. This was not something that happened every day, but it did happen and I learned to deal with it. Some other slights were less harsh, usually just teasing in the form of word play on my name: Sixfeet or ZigZag, for example. I can't say that I particularly enjoyed any of this attention, but I can say that I didn't whine about it. Things were what they were. I knew that my family had come to Canada to build a better life, and I knew that we would do just that -- regardless of what anyone would say about us or do to us.

I realized very early in life that there were individuals who blamed others for everything and who never took responsibility for anything themselves. I learned that they were almost always losers who hated themselves and their lives, and who felt they had to blame someone else for their misfortune because, or so they reasoned, they themselves were victims. The many immigrants who arrived in Canada and the United States in the late 1940's and early 1950's were handy targets. Had there been no immigrants, some other group(s) would have served as scapegoats just as well.

I also realized that most people were forgiving and forward-looking, that they were more at peace with themselves, and therefore stood a much better chance of living useful, productive, happy lives. Those were the people with whom I identified personally.

How old was I when I figured this all out? Perhaps eight or nine years old, when I first began to realize that there are basically two kinds of people: the low-life, 'don't confuse me with the facts' crowd and the open, curious, friendly people who wanted to live their lives in peace, raise their families, and simply just get along with everyone else. By the time I was eleven or so, I had a pretty good idea of how the world worked. I knew that much in life that happened to us wasn't fair and just, but that there was no point crying about it. Whining every minute of every day over a three score plus ten year lifetime will accomplish what? Zero, nada, nothing. Instead, a few moments of careful thought every day, and regular action taken to improve your life, will garner much: prosperity instead of poverty, knowledge instead of ignorance, respect rather than scorn, self-esteem rather than self-hatred.

It's amazing how much thinking can get done every day when there is no television, or no video games to distract you, or if you eat your lunch alone in a school stairwell while everyone else is in the cafeteria. Things improved for me when I moved with my family to a new city, attended a new high school and got to know classier people.

I think about these things because the world today is a veritable cacophony of whining. Talking heads on radio and television, editorial writers, social activists, politicians, and even your know-nothing neighbour all line up to fill your cranium with nonsense. Their solution to every imaginable ill is always tax more, spend more, legislate more. And we, the people, go along with it because, after all, we are kind and considerate, and want everyone to be comfortable and content. Yet, the more we do, the louder is the wailing. Doesn't, or shouldn't, this tell us something?

There was a time when we stood tall, shouldered our responsibilities, and lived our lives proudly. There is too little of that today.

I'm not sure that I would change anything in my childhood, even if I could. What I am today is the sum total of my experiences. What I know today is the sum total of every word I read, and yes, even every insult I heard as a child. Every experience, good or bad, adds something to our life. We can put it in the 'plus' column and learn from it, or we can put it in the 'minus' column and let all of the accumulated negatives destroy us.

Which makes more sense?

Yes, my son is having a much better high school experience than I had. I'm happy about it. I do wonder, though, whether the pervasive whining that surrounds us all will permeate his psyche and his soul and turn him into yet another meek and submissive drone of the state.

God, I hope not.


  1. Two types: the low-life, 'don't confuse me with the facts' crowd and the open, curious, friendly people. Yup.

    I spent grade seven in the last cubicle of the second floor girls' washroom. Draping one of three layers of sweaters over my shoes, with every arrival of new lipstick n' cheer girls who were my tormenters or anyone else who visited more than once in a lunch-hour, so that it wouldn't be noticed that the same pair of ugly sneakers were beneath the last door. I never thought to mix it up; I never thought to use other stalls. So I am sure that some of the less mirror-driven self-absorbed girls knew, but Thank-God they didn't say anything.


    Pennyloafer, Pennysaver, PenniesFromHeaven, Penicillin Penny, Penelope Pitstop, Penny Henny is-the-sky-falling, Spend-a-Penny, PennyNickleDimeQuarter.

    But never anything like 'Nazi'. That isn't even remotely funny, just ignorant.

    I hope your son stays true to himself and avoids the pitfalls of self-pity which the world (especially of advertising) tries to saturate us with, thus we will feel insignificant and spend more.

    And, I hope he knows, even if it's secret for now, like you and I do:

    Nerds Rule.


  2. It seems that you didn't let these things destroy you, Penny. Some people do. Things, large or small, appear to be entered into a mental ledger and these people turn into something that no human being should ever be. And then they spread their malaise near and far and it infects ever more people.

    We need to teach our children to face adversity head-on, to embrace life, to trundle on under any circumstance. It is easy, of course, to say these things after the fact and difficult to actually live the experience, but everything passes eventually.


    And when we pass, it will be what we have left behind that becomes our legacy. The attitudes and the lives of our children will hopefully reflect what we have taught them.

  3. Going through school is the roughest time of any kid's life. The "lord of the flies" stuff is nearly unbearable in some ways. My way of adjusting to it was to tune it out and develope a rather thick skin, one that has manifested to this day in a very strong sense of myself and not caring too much what other people think, one way or the other.

    I learned that I was unwilling to shape and bend myself to be someone who would please everyone all the time.

    I wouldn't go through it again for anything ~ but it certainly was a growth-producing experience.

    Penny is right. Nerds rule! :)



  4. Let's form a company called Nerd's Rule. We'll sell t-shirts, slide rules, Texas Instrument calculators, pocket protectors, etc. Actually, probably someone has done it already.

    It's true, though. It's cool to be nerdy these days. Sort of. Almost. At least if you have made several gazillion dollars in software or an internet startup.

  5. Knowing someone I.T. savvy is essential nowadays. The skewed but popular survival of the fittest type of thinking is changing from broad and muscular or thin and busty to brainy and resourceful. It's a new world.

    Nerds Rule is a bumper sticker. I have one. But, I don't know if it is copywritten or on anything else.

    I would love to see the evolution chain on a t-shirt.. the monkey.. walking upright.. to man.. if you are familiar with the silhouetted progression, remade to add a thinner version of man with glasses and a PC.

  6. That sounds like a terrific t-shirt to me. It tells a whole story, doesn't it?