The Little Philosopher

Yesterday I picked up my son from school and, being briefly stuck in some rush hour traffic, we had an unusually long ride home to talk about school stuff.  Specifically, my son has a report on Ronald Reagan due to be presented in front of the class tomorrow, and I was partially quizzing him and partially telling him more about the Gipper.

We got off on a little bit of a discussion about the hold George Bush shoe-throwing incident, which he’d seen on TV.  I told him in a nutshell that sometimes the President does things that make other people angry, that it’s a hard job being the President because you have to make a lot of tough decisions.  He asked if the shoe-throwing person was a bad guy.  I said no, not exactly, he was just very, very angry, but nevertheless that’s no reason to throw a shoe at somebody.  And he got into a lot of trouble over it.

Then, seeing an obvious segue, I told him briefly that President Reagan, in fact, had actually been shot by a bad guy named John Hinckley.

He thought about this for a minute.

“Dad,” he asked, “How do good guys become bad guys?”

I was stunned.  There, hurtling down the highway at mumble mumble miles per hour, I’d been asked one of the basic questions of philosophy by a nine-year-old.

“You know, son, I really don’t know the answer to that question.  There are a lot of possible answers, answers that make a lot of sense, but I don’t know which one is right…or if any of them are.”

He thought about it for a second longer.  “Maybe I should ask a cop.”

I grinned into the rearview mirror.  “Sure, you could ask a policeman.  But I’m not sure they know, either.”

“Well, it’s like, little kids are good guys, but sometimes when they grow up to be adults, they become bad guys.  I wonder why.”

At this point, I am officially floored.

“I don’t know, son.”  I run through a myriad of possible answers – bad childhoods, bad environments, bad genetics, and decide not to load his brain with any of them.  “There are all sorts of things that could make someone a bad guy, and it’s probably different for each one.  But as for what generally makes good people bad, I’m not sure anyone knows.”

“Not even the smartest person in the world?”

“Not even the smartest person in the world.  They have more ideas, and better ones, but they’re still not sure.”

“Oh.  I still think I should ask a cop.”

“You can definitely ask a policeman next time you see one, son.”  I’m thinking to myself that all the police officers I know would be as smitten with the question coming from this kid’s mouth as I was.  Depending upon the moment, they might laugh or cry or both, but they’d love to hear the question.  “I don’t think they’ll know the answer, really, but they’d be glad to talk to you about it.  That is an excellent question to ask, even if you don’t know the answer, you know?”

“Yeah,” he said, and he stared out the window for a minute before changing the subject.

I don’t know what makes me happier – that he had such a cool take on the idea, or that by third grade he still thinks kids are all good guys.  Either way, that’s one of the best conversations I’ve had in quite a while.

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9 Responses

  1. I don’t know what to say. Your son is incredibly profound for his age. Just stops me in my tracks sometimes. It makes me happy to know you encourage his thinking like that instead of dismissing him like some parents have a tendency to do. Maybe it’s because of the Asperger’s that it makes it all the more special?

    Honestly, I’m not sure, but it’s possible.

    Sometimes he glides along very superficially, only interested in talking about his Legos or his video games or something, and then out pops something like this.

  2. 🙂

  3. Geez, what happened to the days when a kid asked why the sky was blue? What do you feed that kid?

    Brilliant (as always).

    He’d just finished eating a Chicken McNuggets Big Kids Meal.

    You know, brain food.

  4. That made my ovaries hurt. In a good way.

    Heh.

    I remember a little girl in my son’s kindergarten class being the subject of the school’s art teacher saying “She’s so cute she makes my womb contract.”

  5. Aww!!!

    Has he seen Star Wars? That’s a pretty good story of how a good guy becomes a bad guy. 😉

    I don’t think we let him watch Revenge of the Sith yet. Or maybe we did but fast-forwarded through the killing-kids part? Anyway.

  6. Why I will never have children, part 5,834,097: the first thing I thought of when I read the bit about little good guys growing up to be big bad guys was Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, who witnessed a murder from four feet away when he was like 9 years old and done growed up a psychopath. “Sometimes it happens earlier than you’d think, son.” Nnnnnot appropriate.

    Also, your kid is teh awesome. But I think I’ve said that before.

    Uh…yeah. Not so much with the Ramirez, I hope.

    He’s pretty damned cool. And he’s upstairs playing Oblivion right now. Back to the obsession!

  7. Awwwww…makes the Mama in me just melt. Damn fine post, sugar.

    Gracias. He’s a damn fine boy. Which is partially due to luck, of course.

  8. You should have changed the subject to cars…quickly.

    I love picking the brains of my kids to see how they look at things…a part of a reasoning gaem I play with them. I really try not to correct them, but I end up asking them a lot of questions to see how their brain works…it can be very interesting.

    This was quite an exchange…but you should probably find a cop and watch him squirm.

    I thought of changing the subject but decided it was better to let him learn something. Or for me to learn something, one or the other.

    The chief of police at the University would probably love to get that question. He’s a nice old fellow.

  9. See, I would have said something inappropriate like “if you become a bad guy, I’ll smack you so hard your ear will fall off…”

    And this is why I am better aunt than mom.

    Why, you don’t think that’s a perfect mom-ism? Sounds good to me!

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