Lies We Tell Children Part 3

I am having a little fun looking at some of the lies we tell children.  There are so many little ones that are harmless or maybe even helpful.  A good friend of mine has a daughter who has recently developed a fear of the monsters that live in her closet.  He and his wife have given her “Monster Spray” to use before she goes to bed.  This little lie helps her go to sleep at night and rest peacefully knowing the Monsters cannot get to her.

Other lies, and the ones I am more interested in, are the ones that seem to be for the good but have the potential to have horrible consequences.  In Lies We Tell Children Parts 1 and 2 we discussed the motivational lie that “You can accomplish anything you put your mind to”

Another favorite lie told by adults in an attempt to inspire not only children but other adults as well, is that the key to happiness is to “live each day as if it is your last.”  This is one part lie and one part advice but the potential result is the same.

I don’t think people are as likely to take this lie as literally as the first,  but it is still fun to play with the absurd nature of this lie and its implications.  It is a well intended lie that asserts  that we will not find happiness living in the past, nor will we discover fulfillment by only looking to the future and delaying our gratification until we reach “someday.”

The “greater truth” in this lie is that we should appreciate and take full advantage of right now.  To live in the present and enjoy the moment.  Not to wait until tomorrow but to seize the day to do the things you have always wanted.

But really does anybody really think this is a good idea?  If today were my last day on Earth and I was literally going to live it like there was no tomorrow, I would certainly not go to work.  Sure I might make sure I touch base with all my loved ones and make sure they know how much I love them, but I would not bother flossing my teeth.  The dishes in the sink could sit.  I have always wondered what it would be like to rob a bank and try to get away.  That might be an option.  I might as well try that dangerously addictive and life ruining drug I have always been warned about.  Maybe I would empty my bank account and go on a spending spree.

Imagine if the whole world decided one day to live it like it were the last. All the spending might be just the boost the economy needs right now but imagine the chaos.

What would you do?

    • Scott
    • February 2nd, 2010

    OK Brother, I’ll bite. If these lies we tell our children have potential to do damage, causing disillusionment, a cynical outlook, and abandonment of ones pursuits or complete abject apathy in the worst of cases for failing to grasp the “greater truth” in these “lies”; trying out for America Idol, unless one has proper guidance or is monitored to see through to the “greater truths” per our cousin, why do we continue to perpetuate these cliches? Do these “lies” need to be curtailed, or disposed of? How would one even go about the eradication of such “common wisdom” Or do they just need to be retooled so the more “common” among us don’t misconstrue the premise of the “lie”? Do we need to have a replacement? Are we wired intrinsically to need or believe in something like these lies to instill hope? I guess I want to know WHY DO WE TELL THE LIE?

      • Brandon C.
      • February 2nd, 2010

      I think the answer to why is motivation. Motivation to get them to do well in school, or maybe in this lie’s case to get them to go out and do something. Why do you tell your kids there is Santa? To get them to behave the rest of year (or at least month of December).

    • Interesting thoughts Scott, I am not sure we need to go about changing anything or trying to get people to stop lying to their children. Rather I am just looking at the lies and wondering of they do more harm or more good. As Brandon points out, they may motivate people to behave in certain and more productive ways as long as they are not taken literally. The two lies we have looked at so far are not told as blatant lies. They people saying them probably don’t even think of them as lies. They are just trying to inspire and motivate. So maybe the lies are bad and maybe they are good. I just think it is fun to play with the ideas.

    • Brandon C.
    • February 2nd, 2010

    What would I do if it were my last day? LSD

  1. the last thought in this post is a big ‘imagine if…’, and just scratches the surface. i think there are two ways you can look at this lie. one, i agree with you tim, that the flaw of this lie (and all lies are flawed) is framed in the immediacy of the situation. your expiration date is tomorrow, so do whatever you want. chaos ensues.

    the other, might be to view this topic not as a ‘lie’, but a question framed in the reality of the human condition. the idea of the ‘expiration date’ is something we face everyday, with real consequences. especially, for example, in the situation of someone who is terminally ill.

    let’s imagine you were diagnosed with an incurable disease, and not ‘Funny People’ incurable, but were expected to die somewhere between 3 and 5 months. would you then rob a bank, or smoke crack? knowing that you might wake up tomorrow, would you want to wake up in jail? no, right?

    now, let’s imagine you were expected to die within 3 to 5 months, but lived another 5 years. in that passage of time, under the belief of this impending death, would you have changed your behaviors? your daily routine? how you treat others?

    let’s not imagine anymore, but accept that we live in a world where the reality is that we could expire at any moment, from any number of reasons, some of which we can’t explain. in the case of the Haiti earthquake, did anyone wake up on January 12 knowing that today was going to be their last day. no. if everyone did, there would have been a mass exodus resulting in… chaos. instead, everyone was going through their normal motions. which is what we all should do, just with the understanding that life is not infinite. it was not my intention to exploit the victims of this tragedy to make the point.

    in a sense, everyday is our last, and it’s not. that is the tragic beauty of life. my belief with all of this is then we should ask a different question. instead of asking ‘what would i do if tomorrow were my last day’, we should ask, ‘what should we do to make the human experience better, knowing that tomorrow is someone’s last day.’

    so, how do we explain this to children?
    … it’s your blog!

    • Nice Cole! You are right that we all have an expiration date and that keeping this is the back of your mind that we don’t know when it is going to be is probably a healthy way to live. It is a far different thing to be told you have three months and still have the uncertainty that you might make it 5 months or beat the odds and make 5 years. In this case you are just working on a shorter time line than the rest of us who are assuming our expiration date is at the end of the natural lifespan. Your point about Haiti is exactly what I am talking about. On January 12th the victims were not living their lives as if it were there last and that is a good thing as you pointed out. None of us can really afford to lie that way even though the cliche says we should. I love your last line of “What should we do to make the human experience better, knowing that it is someone’s last day?” That is a question for some deep thought and perhaps a great conversation to have with kids and each other! So how do we explain this to children? I will leave that up to the parenting blogs and people who actually have them. I am just playing with ideas.

    • Jen Tave
    • February 4th, 2010

    I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this popular saying to “live each day as if it’s your last” as a lie. I think we often hear this saying these days because in our present society, there is a lot of pressure on the future, sometimes too much. Kids as well as adults are constantly pushed and often drive themselves to go to all extents to do things to better their future- because “in the end, it will be worth it.” I think before I could even talk, people were asking me, “What do you want to be when you grow up? ” or “What do you want to do later in life?” We seem to be almost ‘plagued’ with this notion of the future.
    The saying you brought up is not a saying to be taken literally, but more as reminder of the idea of ‘carpe diem’. It would not make sense to ‘live each day as if it’s your last’ as that would be extracting oneself from the evolution and journey that goes on in life and denying that the past influences the present and that the present affects the future.
    I think this saying is intended to call people to back to finding a balance between obtaining satisfaction in the present by making the best out of the past and perhaps using the future as a source of motivation or aspiration but not as an ‘endpoint’. This saying is often expressed too lightly, in settings that do not call for thought which poses the problem of misinterpretation. As you said, focusing on the end seems unproductive. It is often a challenge in life to strike a balance on the journey of the present moment, between past and future.

    • Thanks for the comment Jen! You are exactly right when you talk about the pressure and focus on the future. I was actually considering looking at this very thing in one of my posts. We are are always working for someday and to make someday better, and trying to get to all these benchmarks that someday represents. Pretty soon someday has come and gone and we missed it! So you are right that we need to find a balance and to appreciate the journey. When did you get so wise?

  1. February 11th, 2010

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