Thursday, April 26 , 2018, 7:36 am | Fog/Mist 52º


Paul Burri: Outgrowing Lessons We Learned as Children

There comes a time when certain rules and 'truths' should be reconsidered

I have played with sharp sticks many times and never once did I poke a kid’s eye out. I’ve made a lot of faces and my face has always gone back to its original shape. It never froze that way, as I was told it would. I’ve played with matches. I once went swimming right after I ate lunch and I didn’t drown. And once I even ran with scissors, and I’m still here to tell about it.

Remember all those warnings you got as a kid? I was thinking about them the other day. Most of it was good advice — for a kid. What my parents forgot to tell me was that once I got to be say, 35, it might be OK to play with matches or run with scissors.

We learn lots of scissors lessons growing up. We learn from our parents, our teachers, our friends, our environment and our culture. But I think that many times we become paralyzed by the admonitions and lessons that we learned as children. Many of them were appropriate and even necessary when we were little kids. It was probably a good idea to teach me not to run into the street when I was 5. But now that I am all grown up, perhaps it’s time to re-examine some of those lessons.

I think there might be times now when it might be OK if I ran with scissors. It might even be a damn good idea in an emergency of some kind. I also think there are times when it might not better to be seen than heard. Or that the only way to treat an alcoholic family member is to ignore the problem and hope it goes away.

Then there are the emotional lessons we learned. I never had a bicycle when I was a kid. I desperately wanted one, but we couldn’t afford it. So you can be damned sure that my kids had bikes when they were growing up. My emotional desires were finally fulfilled in my children.

Another lesson is the story of the woman cooking a pot roast for dinner. As she carefully cut it in half, her husband asked her why she did that. She replied, “That’s the way my mother taught me.” When he persisted, she decided to ask her mother why the recipe called for cutting the roast in half. Her mother answered, “That’s the way Grandma taught me and I always did it that way.” Finally she asked her grandmother why it was necessary to cut the roast in half before baking it. And Grandma told her, “I never had a pan big enough to hold a full roast and we couldn’t afford a bigger pan.”

All too often the lessons we learned as children become the paralyzing rules by which we live as adults — never questioning them because we learned them so early in life when we were impressionable and accepting. As adults we need to carefully re-examine them to see if, 30 or 60 years later, they still — or ever — did apply.

Maybe I now own a pan big enough to hold the entire roast. And maybe I should take another look at whether all blacks are lazy, all Jews are miserly, all Italians are gangsters, all Mexicans are illegal gardeners, all Republicans are ultra-conservative, all Democrats are socialists, and all the people in Hollywood are gay. Maybe there’s no such thing as “all the people of a given group do this or that.” Maybe people are individuals and need to be judged individually.

I was fortunate to be raised by open-minded, totally unprejudiced parents who never poisoned me with ideas like that. But not so for the neighborhood I grew up in. We were all exposed to the “truths” I just mentioned. But for me they didn’t take, and I’m grateful for that.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not represent the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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