Archive for Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Honesty: the cost of maturity

November 19, 2008

When my oldest daughter was about 3, I took her and her brother to the movies. I don’t remember the title, just that without having seen it I thought it would be apt for viewing by children 3 and 5.

We got there a little late and so we made our way to our seats in the darkened theater as the images flashed before us on the screen. Once everybody was situated, I noticed someone was sitting in front of my daughter and I thought she might not be able to see around.

“Can you see OK?” I whispered.

She turned in her seat to face me. She pursed her lips, placed her hands on her hips and assumed one of those “Oh, Daddy” expressions — you know, that affect of exasperation and contempt that girls and their mothers are wont to take on when the male does or says something stupid. (I’m not sure whether girls learn this or whether they’re born with this ability, but I suppose that’s beside the point.)

“Not with the lights out,” she said, loudly enough for people to hear clear across the theater.

Of course, I wasn’t the first parent to find out how brutally honest children can be.

Art Linkletter made a career of it. From 1952 to 1970 he hosted “Art Linkletter’s House Party” every weekday afternoon on CBS. The highlight of the program came at the end, when he lined up a few kids, usually no more than 8 or 9 years old, and asked them various questions.

For example:

“Where did your mommy and daddy meet?”

“In a bar.”

Or:

“What does your daddy do, Paige?”

“He raises funds.”

“He’s a fundraiser. Gee, that’s wonderful. Who’s he raising funds for?”

“Himself.”

Here’s another:

“Stanley Thomas, what do you think you’ll be when you grow up?

“A bus driver or a pilot.”

“A bus driver or a pilot. Well, suppose you were the pilot on a big airplane, and suddenly all four engines stopped. Right away, what would you say?”

“Our father, which art in heaven…”

From this came a series of books, most notably “Kids Say the Darnedest Things!” and another television show with Bill Cosby as host from 1998 to 2000. One thing we learned from this was that the children of 2000 were every bit as precocious as those 40 or 50 years before.

Such brutal honesty is the gift of childhood. We find it funny or charming, of course, because it’s sort of outrageous. But when you’re engaged in important tasks, that sort of honesty can be invaluable.

I’m thinking of this today as I think of our president-elect and the challenges he is soon to face.

People in positions of power naturally find themselves surrounded by those who are prepared to go to any length, to suffer any indignity, to answer their every need or whim.

But among all the toadies and sycophants, one hopes there will be a few with the courage to render honest counsel and advice, and that the new president will have the judgment to listen to voices telling him things he doesn’t want to hear.

Like all fathers, he probably gets that treatment from his daughters, Sasha and Malia. Let’s hope they’re not the only ones, and that he listens.

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