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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Goofus and Gallant - A Balancing Act

In our entire lives, I would estimate that we make thousands of choices, if not millions.

And, for the most part, I’d like to believe that we are all capable of making mostly good choices.

But then there are times in which we knowingly make choices that are poor.  I’d even go one step further and say that most of us have made some decisions that could best be described as a total goof-up.

I know that I have had my share of really bad decisions in my lifetime.  I reckon that since I started up my Thursday Confessional section earlier this year, I’ve confessed to quite a few lapses in judgement.  But, the question is, can it really be considered a true goof-up if we learn from our mistakes?

I’d like to think so.

We’re all human.  We all make mistakes.  But whatever doesn’t kill us eventually makes us stronger and wiser.  Well, unless you’re one of those people who absolutely refuse to learn from past mistakes, in which case, maybe this blog entry isn’t for you.

Over the course of our lifetime, we’re more or less responsible for our own moral codes and belief system.  Mind you, everyone in the world has their own individual beliefs and moral codes, but I want to believe that most of us in our lifetimes have formulated a basic sense of what is right and what is wrong.

I’d like to think that for most of us, we learned the difference between right and wrong from our parents, siblings, or extended family.  But, some of us may have had a mentor growing up.  Some of us might have had a teacher who supported us and guided us to success.  And in some cases, we might resort to looking towards a higher power to help guide us in our decisions. 

I’ll readily admit that in my case, how I was brought up highly influenced the way that I make decisions in my day-to-day life. 

But, I also had additional influences to add on top of that.

I’m pretty sure that growing up in the 1980s (in which practically every sitcom was family friendly and presented a moral in each episode), I may have been slightly motivated to make choices based on the same ones that my favourite television characters made themselves.  I also credit the many teachers that I had over the years to show me the way (or in the case of teachers who were not as patient or understanding, show me the way NOT to).

But today’s blog subject is about a couple of magazine characters who also influenced my ability to make decisions that would improve my decision making skills and steer me on the road to happiness instead of plummeting down the steep slope of misery.

Have you ever read the magazine known as Highlights for Children?  I’m sure if any of us have been inside the waiting area of a dentist office, free clinic, or the emergency room of a hospital, you might have flipped through the inside pages while waiting to get a filling, or to get in to see a doctor.  Highlights for Children magazine has been around quite a long time.  The first issue was published way back in June 1946, and over the last sixty-five years has since surpassed one billion copies in print!

The magazine was founded by Garry Cleveland Myers and his wife Caroline Clark Myers in Honesdale, Pennsylvania.  Mr. Myers had a degree in psychology from Columbia University, and together with his wife, he would teach illiterate soldiers from the United States Army how to read.  These experiences lead to the pair pioneering the concept known as elementary education.  They also wrote several books together, and Mr. Myers had a column entitled “Parent Problems” that was nationally syndicated.

Having a strong desire to share their knowledge in education, Garry and Caroline began working for a magazine called “Children’s Activities”, which allowed both of them to discover and learn new things, while refining the information that they already knew.  Eventually, the couple would take that knowledge to start up their own publication.  Soon after Highlights for Children became available, the couple eventually bought the very magazine they used to work for and amalgamated it into Highlights for Children.

So now that you know the story behind the creation of Highlights for Children, what does this have to do with making good choices in life?

Well, in 1948, Garry Cleveland Myers created a cartoon strip featuring two little boys.  The artwork for the strip was originally done by Anni Matsick, and the strips always consisted of two panels.  One panel showed one little boy doing something that could be considered very naughty, such as forgetting to take a message from a telephone caller, or cheating on a test.  The other little boy on the right hand side would always do the right thing.  He would take detailed messages if anyone called his house should the person not be there, and he would NEVER cheat on a test.

Truth be told, whenever I would pick up a copy of Highlights for Children, I would always try to find this comic strip, just to see what mischief the troublemaking boy did, and what nice thing the nice boy did.

The comic strip was a feature known as Goofus & Gallant.  Goofus being the bad seed, and Gallant being the goody-two-shoes.

And, yes...I’ll admit it.  Goofus and Gallant were sort of like my kiddy conscience when I was growing up.  Doing things the Goofus way meant that I usually got punished by my parents, or had to stay inside for recess.  But, doing things the Gallant way meant that I got some perks and rewards, or even a simple “good job”.

I’ll admit that in my early childhood, I used to be a real Goofus of a kid.  I would do some of the craziest things humanly possible.  One time, I remember finding a pillow that belonged to my sister and coloured over it with Cadomark brand markers.  You know, the markers that had the funny smell and were one hundred per cent PERMANENT?  Yep.  Goofus moment.

Or, the time that I took all of the puzzles inside my kindergarten classroom, took them apart, and buried all the pieces in the indoor block pit?  Oh yes.  Goofus moment to the extreme.  I still remember the teacher forcing me to put all the puzzles back together.  It took me half of the afternoon to do!  But, I never ever did it again!

And, we won’t be discussing the Goofus moment that involved myself, a flooded sink, and my sister’s cosmetics vanity in the bathroom falling off of the wall, smashing her cosmetics all over the floor and making our bathroom smell like Exclamation perfume for two whole weeks afterwards.  Yeah, that’s a Goofus moment that I would really like to forget.

But, over time, my Goofus ways would eventually give way to the Gallant that I believe happens to be inside of all of us.  By eighth grade, I think that I was ‘Gallant’ enough to get through an entire day without experiencing one Goofus moment. 

I’d say that at the age of nearly 31 years old, I generally live life mostly like Gallant...though admittedly a few Goofus moments pop in there once in a while.  But, that’s perfectly fine with me, because I believe that to have the best possible chance in life, you have to keep your Goofus level in balance with your Gallant level.  I’m not saying that your Goofus and Gallant levels have to be fifty-fifty.  In my case, I think it’s more like seventy-thirty in favour of Gallant.  But trying to be all Goofus or all Gallant isn’t exactly the best way to go.

I think it’s pretty obvious why it’s not a great idea to attempt to become a perfect Goofus.  Goofus always makes poor decisions, is often self-centered, and is probably not the best role model for anybody.  I certainly can’t see adult Goofus lasting very long in any sort of job.  Heck, Goofus could very well be a high school dropout for all we know.  I doubt we’ll ever find out what Goofus would be like as an adult because Goofus has been eternally ten years old for over sixty years.  But, I doubt that he would ever be regarded as a pillar of the community.

However, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side either.  I don’t think I would be completely happy being one hundred per cent Gallant either.  Sure, he’s always good, and he’s always happy, and he’s always respectful.  But after a while, that can get pretty monotonous.  I think trying to be a Gallant in every aspect of your life can get pretty exhausting, and would inevitably cause more harm than good.

I guess if I had to put together an analogy using pop culture characters in terms of making a Goofus and Gallant comparison, we could take a look at the Simpsons.  As far as a Goofus character goes, Bart Simpson is probably the best example we can come up with.  Although there are some minor instances of Gallant in Bart, he usually doesn’t show it.  He frequently takes stupid dares, makes stupid prank calls, and cheats off of Martin Prince in order to not look as...well, stupid.  He also pulls pranks, he makes fun of the teachers (although some of them deserve it), and as far as respect for his parents and family goes, there’s not a whole lot...especially when it comes to Homer.

Meanwhile, I can’t help but picture Rod and Todd Flanders as perfect Gallant boys.  Those boys are respectful, they play nice games, and they always respect their families.  Too bad they’re also gullible, naive, and get offended and frightened by things way too easily.

When you see it illustrated like that, it’s easy to see why being all Goofus isn’t much better than being all Gallant, and vice versa.

But when you have a little bit of both in you, it’s not so bad.  Balancing is the key.

I mean, if I was in a situation where I was faced with someone who was being incredibly rude to me and would not let up, I’d examine both ways.  The Gallant in me would walk away and ignore them, because I know that they would eventually get bored and move on.  The Goofus in me would punch him in the nose.

I would say that in the above scenario, because I feel that I am more Gallant than Goofus, I would ignore the bully.  But, if the bully was acting like a real Goofus, and started to push me around...well, sometimes the only way to stop a Goofus is by being a Goofus.  Which, I guess if it works could end up being a Gallant moment.

Wow, I’m confusing myself here.  J

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we all make decisions every day.  Some of those decisions require us to put our best face forward and give off the most gallant of impressions, while others can only be resolved through the Goofus method.  But, as long as we can control the balance between our Goofus side and our Gallant side, then I think we’ll all be all right.

I mean, if Goofus and Gallant can live on the same page of a magazine for sixty-four years, certainly they must have that balance, right?

BONUS QUESTION:  Are YOU a Goofus, or a Gallant?

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