Thursday, October 09, 2008

Truth Patrol gone amuck

My son McKay is the sweetest, most soft-hearted kid I know. But for some reason, McKay suspends all compassion when it comes to his little brother Gabie. There are deep issues here — no doubt some sibling rivalry, some resentment for the adorable child who demands the attention of every adult in the room, some middle-child syndrome at work. Who knows? But whatever the cause, McKay and Gabie frequently argue and bicker about the stupidest things. Case in point: yesterday’s whole “you can’t be a fire chief” debate.

In the afternoon, Ken took Gabie and Nora to a safety fair where they both got fire chief sticker-badges and red fireman hats. Gabie was thrilled and even considered momentarily trading in his dream of being a doctor for the equally plausible dream of fighting fires for a living. At the table, Gabie put on his hat and told McKay he was a fire chief. McKay immediately launched into what I call his Truth Patrol mode. He just can’t stand to let even the tiniest bit of non-factual information flow from his little brother’s mouth. “That’s so stupid.” McKay said. “You can’t be a fire chief. There’s no such thing as a 6-year old fire chief. You have to go through real training and get certified...” etc. etc. etc. This went on for a while until I told McKay to knock it off and please let Gabie imagine he was a fire chief. “Gabie’s ideas are not hurting you in any way,” I told him. “Just leave him alone.”

I don’t really understand McKay’s Truth Patrol impulse. Or at least I didn’t understand it until recently. Now I think I see where he gets it. And it just might be from his mother.

A few days ago I went to see an art exhibit at the University of Utah. Or maybe I should just say that a few days ago I died and went to heaven. Anyway, I’m wandering around with my jaw hanging down and my mind whirling and my pencil madly scratching across my notebook pages and then I find myself in front of Rodin’s famous statue of “The Thinker.” Now I’m enough of a Rodin scholar to know that there are dozens of versions of this statue in various museums around the world but it was still exciting to see this casting and take a look at the details and the beautiful bronze patina of this particular copy from the Cleveland Museum of Art. And while I’m studying it and feeling the art-lover’s high that comes from being in the presence of a masterpiece, these two women step up behind me and start to talk about the sculpture. The dark-haired one begins to rant about how lucky they are to be seeing The Thinker. “I can’t believe it’s the Real Thing,” she says. “I wonder how they managed to get it here. This is so amazing.”

And what do I do? Well, I’m ashamed to admit that at this point, some other Julie — an ugly, know-it-all, pretentious, professorial, snob of a Julie — sprouts out of the top of my head and sticks her nose up in the air and speaks to this total stranger. “It’s not the original,” the ugly Julie says in an 'aren't I helpful to disabuse you of your erroneous assumptions' tone. “There are lots of copies of this all over the world.” And the woman (rightly so!) gives me the most piercing scowl I have ever received from any creature other than my 2-year old daughter. Truly withering. And then Truth Patrol Julie withdraws back into my head and I slink my way into the Picasso room. (And may I add that slinking is hard to do with one foot on the floor and the other firmly wedged in one’s mouth.)

So if I had perhaps really looked at "The Thinker" and been inspired to do a little thinking of my own, I would have just shut up and let the woman imagine whatever she wanted to imagine. It was not hurting me in the least to let her bask in the glow of what she saw as the Real Thing. It was certainly not my place to burst her bubble. The other thing I should have considered is that Rodin’s thinker is actually an illustration of Dante looking out over the gates of hell and the sufferers therein, many of whom are guilty of the deadly sin of — hello? — Pride. And how does Dante define pride but the “love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one’s neighbor.” A little less love of self and a little less contempt for the errors of others would serve me well, I think.


Annette Lyon said...

I'm afraid I'm a Truth Patrol Sergeant or Captain or something. It's a weakness I've been trying to eradicate for year, and it's HARD. I don't mean to be snooty--I'm intending to be "helpful." Yeah. I'm sure I'm so appreciated, too.

Thinking about Dante and pride might be the kick I need to abandon my badge.

tjhirst said...

Sounds like our house lately, the insistence on being right just gets the better of all of us. Why do we do that?

Anonymous said...

Ouch! Sounds familiar...

Great post!

SB ib Michigan

LaughingElk said...

Nice post.
I'm also a captain in the Truth Patrol.

Speaking of fire safety, I took my son's cub scout troop to a firehouse safety fair (probably the same one you went to!) I was amazed at how much money they spent on things like free fire hats, cotton candy, fire extinguisher demonstrations and a really impressive propane fire blowout simulator that shot flames 50 feet in the air. I figured it was money well spent since they were teaching fire safety and would therefore not have to respond to as many fires.

At the end my son turned to me and asked, "Dad, on Halloween, can we start a fire?"
Suspiciously, I asked, "Why?"
"Because then we can watch the firetrucks come!"

Anonymous said...

Julie, I must be weird, but I would have appreciated the short lesson on Rodin. Yes, I have seen many of his castings and studies that are in the National Gallery of Art, but would have loved for someone to come up behind me and say, "you know, the original is in the such-in-such gallery in Dingsboomville." I would have appreciated the fact someone else shared their knowledge with me. I guess I am just weird.

Marina's Tom

Kristin said...

You don't know me, but I just had to tell you I just read an essay you wrote for Segullah--Attendance--it deeply touched me. Thank you for your words. I have five young children--had those same thoughts at times. Thank you for helping me feel that there is purpose in what I am doing.
Kristin in Utah

Boireannach said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Boireannach said...

Thanks for this blog. I've been guilty of this too many times than I'd like to remember. (And, just recently, I sort of went off on an email that rubbed me the wrong way.) It's particularly hard when you're a teacher and have to critique student's papers, and it's not just about grammar but whether their ideas make sense and they have good arguments (critical thinking). I try to mix the positive (good use of ; good observation) with the negative (this word doesn't work here; you may want to recheck your facts before coming to this assumption.) I saw a notice once that said, "Diplomacy Department: We say the nastiest things in the nicest way." I don't want to say what students may consider "nasty" things, but it's always a fine balance between criticism and critique. And they're usually seen the same way. I feel more like the foot soldier of the Truth Patrol: I'm always thrusting in sharp points as part of my job on the front line!

Annie said...

Hi Julie,
Coming out of lurking to say hello and that I think of this post now and then when I or my kids swerve into Truth Patrol mode (usually starting with "well actually...")

I enjoy your blog. Great writing. Merry, merry holidays to you.