Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Lesson in Boasting (and Perseverance)

Nicholas loves trying to convince his little brother that he is more knowledgeable in just about every topic of conversation. It doesn't matter what question Christopher asks, what statement he makes or what tidbit of information comes out of his mouth, Nicholas is right there to correct him. Poor Christopher doesn't know what to do or say half of the time because his big brother unceasingly sets out to prove him wrong.

We were driving to Greenfield Village the other day when Christopher asked me how long it would take to get there. "Oh, about 45 minutes or so" was my answer. Christopher wondered if we should play our "count to 100" game where the boys count to 100 to see how much time has passed. Usually we play the game in restaurants when the boys are getting antsy waiting for their food. I tell them to count to 100 and by the time they are finished their food will come out. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it keeps the boys occupied for awhile and helps them practice their counting skills.

During our drive, Christopher commented that if we counted to 200 we would arrive at Greenfield Village. "I think it might take counting a little bit higher than that," I claimed. So, Christopher guessed that maybe it might take counting to 600 before we got to our destination. "Hmmmmn...yes, counting to 600 might just get us to Greenfield Village." Christopher decided that it was too hard to count to 600 and I agreed. It would take a lot of time and counting to get to 600. Nicholas, on the other hand, chided his brother for thinking that counting to 600 was hard. "It's easy to count to 600, Christopher. Geez, what a simple thing to do!"

In Christopher's defense I reminded Nicholas that counting to 600 is actually a hard, not to mention time-consuming, thing to do. "No it's not" he argued. "I'll show you." With that, Nicholas started to count. When he got to 106 and he said, "See, that was easy. Nothing to it. I told you I could do it!" I said, "Nicholas, you just counted to one-hundred and six, not six hundred. In order to count to 600 you would have to count to 100 six times." I watched the smugness on his face turn to confusion as he contemplated that audacious goal. "I think you owe your brother an apology for boasting that you could do something so easily that Christopher correctly decided was tough thing to do."

Nicholas still maintained that counting to 600 was easy. He was not to be deterred. I encouraged him to try knowing full well that he would probably peter out right around the half-way mark. He counted up to 250 before he decided that his task was more enormous than he thought. He tried to blame me for losing his concentration. He started whining a bit and getting agitated. I told him he could quit counting at any time if he just apologized to his brother for his unnecessary boasting. He continued to count.

When he got to 300 I told him he was half-way there. He was getting tears in his eyes at this point and breathing a lot heavier. I had to help him a bit here and there, but he mostly did the counting himself. He tried to skip some numbers but I subtly reminded him of his error to make sure that he was counting every single number. I wouldn't allow any shortcuts for Mr. bossy britches. Again, I reminded him that he could stop counting at any time if he just apologized. He was still crying and trying hard not to show his frustration, but he kept counting.

We pulled into the Greenfield Village parking lot at number 500. Nicholas continued to count and heaved and sighed his way to 600. He finally accomplished his goal. He breathed a deep, profound sigh of relief as he counted his final number. All in all, with a few stops and starts and some do-overs, it took him about 35 minutes to count to 600. I reminded him that I wasn't proud of his boasting and I hope he learned his lesson, but boy did I admire his tenacity. I told him how proud I was of him for sticking with it. His resolve never ceases to amaze me.

In no way, shape or form was Nicholas about to admit defeat. He realized pretty early on that counting to 600 was not easy and I know he wished at some points that he never uttered those boastful words, but in the end he persevered. He reached his goal. He never gave up. People have watched him and commented to me before on his will and sheer determination including his Kindergarten teacher who wrote me a note at the end of the year saying that she could tell, "he is going to do great things in his life." I couldn't agree more. Nicholas just has to realize that actually doing great things is much more satisfactory than boasting about doing great things.

I have been eagerly awaiting the day that Christopher can offer a comment or observation that doesn't come with a big-brother retort. After Nicholas's counting experience, that day just might be closer than I think.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why Isn't Common Sense More Common?

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's a duck. What you see is what you thought before you looked. Stupid is forever, ignorance can be fixed.

Over and over we hear these common phrases that point out, quite simply, common sense will guide you if you are open to seeing things for what they are. Not your perception based on what you think the outcome should be or how it might benefit you better or what your friend said is true. Just recognizing simple facts.

Common sense is defined in Merriam-Websters dictionary as "sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts." The operative word being simple. We sometimes take common sense for granted because we really want to believe something other than the facts presented. Employing the KISS principle, "keep it simple, stupid," universally applies to most situations. Taking out all of the extra crap clogging your brain (like other people's opinions) helps. But, if common sense is so simple, why isn't it more common?

Sometimes we just want to believe something other than the facts staring us in the face. We really want to believe we can make unlimited income selling magical acai berry juice. If Joe is doing it, why can't I? We really want to believe that our friend has our best interest at heart and make excuses for each disrespectful or hurtful remark lobbed our way. We really, really want to believe that if we spend a lot of money on lottery tickets sooner or later we have to win. It sounds so easy. But the facts tell a different story. Joe probably got in on the bottom of a pyramid scheme and will make a ton of money off of you selling acai berry juice for him. Not all of our friends are good ones. Some friendships need to be reassessed from time to time to make sure only the genuine get to stick around. And, let's face it, if it were so easy to win the lottery we would all be millionaires.

I'm not sure if common sense is inherent or learned, or a combination of both, but I have to believe that those who use common sense generally trust their own intuition and instinct. Using your own instinct, coupled with a simple perception of the situation or facts, is a win-win situation. Trusting your own instincts, however, can be a hard lesson to learn.

Many times Nicholas has come home and asked me if something is true. Usually the "something" is a far-fetched, ridiculous story concocted by one of his little buddies. Usually, the buddy is trying desperately to impress his friends. And, usually, the story hasn't the slightest chance of believability. But, to a 6-year-old with a vivid imagination, anything is possible.

"Mom, Danny told me today that he ate six hundred licorice sticks all at once and didn't even get sick. Do you think that's true?"

Before I crush his brilliantly imagined scenario with an unequivocal, "there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that Danny ate six hundred licorice sticks. Period." I always try to turn it around and ask Nicholas what he thinks. As in, do you really think that Danny could have consumed six hundred licorice sticks in one sitting? How long would it take to even do that? Can his stomach old six-hundred licorice sticks? Does that even sound feasible?

My questions back to Nicholas serve a few purposes. First, I want him to stop and really think about what he hears and not just believe everything everyone tells him. I can tell him that his friend didn't really wrestle a two hundred pound alligator and live to tell about it or that his friend's dad simply did not land on the moon, but it is much more effective if I ask Nicholas's opinion and he comes to the conclusion all by himself. He wants desperately to believe his friend but most of the time he realizes that some things just don't ring true.

Second, I stress to him that because he is even asking me to validate his friend's allegation he already doubts its believability. If he believed his friend he wouldn't have to ask me what I think. So, in the end, we agree that he has already figured out the allegation was nonsense all by himself. I am happy that he applied simple common sense and he is happy that I think he is a genius. Little by little Nicholas is beginning to understand the concept of trusting his own instincts and using common sense when trying to make sense of the senseless.

Seeing things for what they are and not what we want them to be is tricky. But, it is possible with a little practice. Keep repeating the mantras: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's a duck. What you see is what you thought before you looked. Stupid is forever, ignorance can be fixed.

Pretty soon common sense might become more common after all.

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