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What controversial advice have people given to their children?
My potentially controversial advice to my son was celebrate your stupidity. It might seem like pretty bad advice on the surface, but there is a rationale.
My son was a perfectionist and sensitive to failure, which is tough as a kid because you’re always learning and doing new stuff. If he didn’t do very well at something or if he made a mistake he would be hard on himself. If he made a mistake, he brooded. I felt like he needed to loosen up and not feel so bad about mistakes.
So I invented a little competition where we would intermittently see who had screwed up the worst. Neither of us is stupid. We are both reasonably brightish, and his light no doubt burns brighter than mine, but as standard-issue humans we are perfectly capable of committing acts of stupidity.
On days where I had done something particularly stupid, I would often share with him what it was. He would do the same. We would compare our tales and see who had messed up the worst. The winner got bragging rights. I have a deep reservoir of mistakes so I always had some examples to bring up when he was feeling bad because something didn’t go right for him.
When he ran and leaped to jump on his bed but overshot the mark, he plowed his head into the wall. He dented the drywall and smacked his head good in the process. Being who he is, he not only felt the pain in his head, but he felt bad about busting the wall a bit. So, I had to tell him how, as a boat-boy for a millionaire who had hired me, I hosed down the boat with all the windows open, spraying water all over the interior of the boat.
Guys will tell other guys about something stupid they did, and then the other guy will say, “That’s nothing. One time I …”
When he broke a window and felt bad about it, I told him about how I had just recently at my office broken the freon pipe in the freezer by using a screwdriver and a hammer to chip away built up ice. When I tapped the screwdriver just so I managed to make the freezer spew freon into my face. The freezer was toast. When he broke his aquarium while trying to carry it into the backyard to hose it out, I told him about the time the boat owners told me to throw away the garbage, then take the groceries, put them in the back of the convertible, and then drive the groceries from the port to their home a few hours away. You know what happened.
When I got to their house and unloaded the bags I discovered I had transported the garbage several hours and tossed the groceries. I didn’t last long at that job. Now when he fell and broke the aquarium he had managed to cut his wrist enough that he needed a couple of stitches, so if I recall correctly he won that particular celebrate-your-stupidity-thon, but I was always a tough competitor in that realm and could always come up with something new for each incident.
We talked about how being stupid and celebrating stupidity was a guy thing. Guys will tell other guys about something stupid they did, and then the other guy will say, “That’s nothing. One time I …” and they they go on to describe the really stupid thing they did.
The point, of course, was not to put ourselves down. We were acknowledging that even the brightest and best of us makes mistakes, so goofing up is not something to make a big deal out of. The thing to do is laugh at yourself and figure out how to avoid doing the same stupid thing again.
We have both made plenty of mistakes since then, but we both still try to have a sense of humor about our own and humanity’s innate capacity to engage in stupid human behavior.
So I will stand by that advice from years ago. Feel free to pass it on to your kids. People, celebrate your stupidity!
Edward Donner enjoys writing about parenting, television, and pop culture in general. Read more from Quora below:
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