May 28, 2012 13 Comments
My parents taught me many things about life.
They taught me the difference between right and wrong, between good and bad, to look both ways when crossing the road, to respect my elders, to not lie, cheat or thieve and to respect all life.
However, there were some critical elements of life that not only did they not include in the curriculum, but when they did, that they actually misled me about.
Here are just a few.
World leaders have as little real understanding of what it takes to run anything as do normal people
I have no belief in the ability of world leaders to do any better in running a country or an economy than most people have in running their own household budgets. Beyond getting themselves elected, politicians tend to rely totally on the goodness of the fates for their successes, when they have them. Whether they are left, right or middle of the road, their policies generally effect minimal change other than their control over our levels of taxation for the term of their appointment, and do very little to benefit their constituents.
Doctors do not sit at the right hand of god and medicine is not an exact science
At the age of 44 I was given a 50/50 chance of surviving a year due to a battle with colon cancer. I was told that it was mandatory that I follow up my surgery with a course of chemotherapy which, after pushing my surgeon for a dose of reality, I discovered at that time had only about a 3% success rate. I had a young relative who was told that he just had a bad flu who was dead 6 weeks after the first diagnosis. My parents believed that doctors could never be wrong and would do whatever their GP said to the letter. At the age of 60 my father found out that he had a stomach ulcer. Our GP told him that he needed to eat bland food so for the next 26 years my father lived on boiled chicken as his only protein intake… his doctor had spoken. Doctors are generally well trained and well prepared for their roles, but their error rate is no different from the rest of the population.
Bank managers should not be revered
My parents believed that their bank manager warranted a level of esteem (and fear) that was exceeded only by their GP. If they needed something from the bank, they would dress in their Sunday best and go cap in hand to beg for his largesse. I acted in exactly the same way with my first 2 loans, despite the fact that what I was looking for was only about 30% of the property value. It took me a while to realise that lending me money was why they existed. I learned to get multiple banks to bid for my business, and was delighted to learn that they could actually add some hitherto undisclosed incentives to win it. My first banking epiphany came to me when I realised that it was never the smartest kids in my school who became bankers.
In the same way that your parents never understood you, you will also never understand your children
My parents didn’t understand anything much about my life. Not my sense of dress (as a rocker in the 1950s this involved black stovepipe trousers, red shirt and black sweater), my Elvis-pretend haircut, my music (increasingly dominated by the rolling stones), my friends nor my choice of career. The balance is that I have as little understanding of my own daughters who are both seriously conservative and more like my parents in attitude than they are to us. We are a dysfunctional family as it is the parents who ran away from home, rather than the kids doing so, as was the norm with my generation. The generation gap is only a question of cycle.
As much as you believe in free will, you are just the sum of your prejudices
Being central Europeans my parents filled me with their truisms of life, such as Germans are aggressive, Americans are obsessed with money, French are lazy, Italians are sex-crazed, English never wash, Russians are drunks, Jugoslavs are crazy and Gypsies are thieves (see “Let’s ridicule our neighbours more” posted May 2, 2011). I now, at an age approaching 70, having worked closely with all nationalities and having lived in many of the countries mentioned above, can finally at least honestly say that after having spent the last 20 years of my career working for/with SAP, I have finally overcome the first prejudice about Germans. I am still working on the others.
Relationships are harder to understand than the cosmos
Stephen Hawking may understand the cosmos, but he also understands that the biggest black hole in his almost limitless knowledge is his understanding of women. My parents had an arranged marriage that lasted over 50 years, and had a belief that all marriages were like this so could not understand why my first one ended after 8 years. Today the use by date on yoghurts is longer than most marriages. Relationships are significantly more complex to comprehend than the Big Bang Theory.
Money doesn’t buy you happiness but it does buy you choices
My parents brought me up to believe that beyond what was needed to stay alive, have a roof over your head and educate your children, money was unimportant and that money did not buy you happiness. I know quite a few wealthy people who are miserable, and even some who committed suicide, so at least my parents were right about the happiness piece of the advice. But money is important, as having some money available over and above the ability to meet life’s necessities, does give one choices in life that basic income earners never have the luxury of making. Those who are lucky enough to have earned this privilege in life should understand and treat it with respect.
As said by author Mitch Albom “All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers.”