Thursday, January 22, 2009

Our Note-Book Contest

Let This Be A Lesson

In a mood of general despondency about the state of the press in our modern day, an acquaintance recently brought to my attention an article that, he protested, was proof of the "silly" side of the media. He had come across an article entitled "Let this be a lesson to all you six-year-olds" about a boy who repeated the infamous procedure of sticking his tongue to a cold steel lamp post in mid-winter. It was, of course, immediately stuck fast, frozen to the steel post; and despite my pity for the child, I confess I felt a general tendency to share my friend's meager view of the press, if it found such trivial incidents newsworthy--until it occurred to me that it was not so trivial at all.

In fact, upon reflection, it occurred to me that, though perhaps the incident really should not have ended up in the newspaper, the reporter had actually pointed the story in the right direction, whether by purpose or no, and revealed something rather interesting. The point of the article was not that the poor lad got his tongue stuck to a lamp post; the point of the article, if only jestingly, was that his misfortunate action should serve as a lesson to other children; that with blazing firmness, the case of this young daredevil may be permanently imprinted on the minds of his peers, that they may never venture the risky maneuver of sticking tongues to lamp posts in winter themselves.

Perhaps there was a sort of "tongue in cheek"--if you will pardon the pun-- attitude about the way the article was written; the title, "Let this be a lesson..." was meant to evoke amused shakings-of-the-head from adults. But that is why adults miss the point of the story. The little kindergartener in the article would never attempt such a move again, or even consider it. He learned his lesson; he learned it in the cruel school of experience. Adults like the author of the article really expect other children to learn from this; to know better than to attempt it themselves. While they cannot guarantee that this will be the effect on other children, at least the lesson is there for the learning. Other children may yet have to learn this lesson the hard way--but if they do, they will learn it well.

That is, in a nutshell, the difference between the adult approach to such experiences and a child's approach. When children learn a lesson the hard way, they do not, as a principle, forget it. It stays with them. Adults tend to outgrow this sincerity of conscience, and repeat again the mistakes whose lessons they should have learned already; it may have something to do with the fact that adults lack the humility of children in recognizing what they did wrong, and that they ought not to do it again.

This discrepancy, of adults failing to learn lessons as children do, is brought to me with greater force as I observe repeatedly the manifestation of that age-old adage: "History repeats itself." An unusually strong and charismatic president led the nation into World War I. At the end of World War I, politicians predicted world peace and prosperity, practically guaranteed through the newly formed League of Nations. Through the influence of an unusually strong and charismatic president, the nation entered World War II. After World War II, world leaders were again predicting peace, practically guaranteed through the newly formed United Nations. Needless to say, that peace did not last very long, either.

The pattern is seen even in a contemporary parallel. In the 1920's, when materialism was all the rage in American society, leaders were predicting immediate, constant, and widespread prosperity ("a chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage!"). Then, through shaky economic policies, massive inflation, too much trust in the system and downright bad choices, the U.S. ushered in a world-wide Great Depression. Ten years ago, with materialism again on the rise, life-long prosperity seemed undoubtedly in our grasp. Now, through all the bad choices mentioned above repeated again, we seem to be on the brink of a Second Greater Depression.

It is possible that this is one reason why Christ told us to become like little children, and why little children should be the model for humanity. Humanity should learn its lessons as children do, and should accept them with finality. All our dark sins and sad mistakes are repeated through this general failing to learn our lessons. If, upon entering the confessional, I say "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned..." and repeat the same sins that I committed last time, I can optimistically say that I have, at least, not added any new ones; but the truth is, that I have not learned my lesson. In my un-childlike pride, I have failed to take to heart the realization of the damage sin has done to my soul, and so I have repeated it. Even if, by my human weakness, I fall again into these sins, I must at least have a "firm purpose of amendment," an active intention to eradicate those sins from my activities.

Young adults can be particularly prone to the temptation to ignore or not to learn lessons, though by far they are not the only class subject to this temptation. Young and old have clashed again and again through history, generally because the young have failed to learn the lessons of their fathers. In believing themselves to be adults, on their own independent ground, youths can be tempted to cast aside the lessons their fathers learned before them. Consequently, new generations frequently repeat the mistakes of their predecessors, and the result is the Neo-Puritans and Neo-Pagans that have arisen in our day. It is time for young adults to recognize that the lessons of the past are better preparation for the future than inexperience. We must drink deeply of the lessons of our fathers, that we may learn better the lessons of our own experience, and pass them on, rich and full, to the next generation. We must learn to learn our lessons with the simplicity of children; if we are burnt, we dare not touch the fire; if we stick our tongues to a cold steel post, we ought to know better than to ever do so again.

5 comments:

Aidan Mackey said...

I am an old follower of G.K. from Bedford, England & have just read the essay by Roseinfaith. Flavour of G.K. is very much there but the piece is important in its own right -even if G.K, being absent-minded, had omitted to be born! It has genuine worth and profundity --my thanks, and don't stop writing.
All blessings, Aidan Mackey

Ancient Greek Philosopher said...

I really like your analogy, RoseinFaith!

RoseinFaith said...

Thank you very much, Mr. Mackey. Your encouragement is very much appreciated, especially coming from such as you! I am deeply honored.
God Bless!
RoseinFaith

Love2Learn Mom said...

Bravo!!!

Tzard said...

Though I am no expert, I am fairly certain G.K. would never say "if you will pardon the pun".

He wrote an apology for puns, and never apologized for using them.

Otherwise a grand attempt. I agree that it stands up on it's own.