By Tom Rhodes, 1/9/12
It was maybe 1970 when mom and dad loaded us four kids into the car towing a pop-up camper and we did the Great American Road Trip. Typical affair of the era to see as much of the USA than is reasonable in 2 weeks during July. Putting in 700 miles a day; cruising the interstates in 100 degree weather without AC (a rare option in a 1965 Chrysler Newport). Besides crossing the vast planes of Nebraska, seeing the world from the top of Pikes Peak, and staring down the depths of the Grand Canyon, and admiring the beauty of the painted desert, I learned the true meaning of liberty and limited government.
We were stopped at a roadside motel in the high desert of New Mexico; it had been a long hot day. After dinner it had cooled down to a balmy 90 degrees, and we asked to go swimming, Dad checked out the pool water temp (80 degrees) and declared he didn't think it was a good idea, that it's too cold. Coming from Michigan where we swim in 70 degree lakes when it's barely 80 degrees out, my wisdom of 9 years or so declared that dad was nuts, it's hot and the water is warm. I argued that the previous year while in Florida we swam in an 80 degree pool when it was 90 degrees out and it was absolutely awesome. His answer was, "I can take it if you can." He told us to get our stuff ready and head to the pool, but he wasn't going swimming. Being a 9 year old I got into my swim trunks, and headed to the pool, of course forgetting a towel. I talked my little brother into going swimming too, but mom interfered and wouldn't let my little sisters go, they were mad.
My understanding of physics, weather, etc. was that of a typical 9 year old. We ran to the pool and promptly jumped into the deep end. As soon as I surfaced I realized something was wrong. I didn't know why, but I was freezing. My little brother was too. You see when you're over 5000 feet in altitude, the relative humidity is around 2%, and the air temp is 90 degrees, water evaporates very quickly, especially off of a 98.6 degree body. Evaporating water takes away massive amounts of heat, it's called evaporative cooling. After a few minutes we were freezing and got out of the pool. That when things really got cold as the water rapidly evaporated from our bodies. I don't mean chilly, I mean it was stand in the slush naked cold. Shivering there with no towels; mom and dad were watching but playing on the playground with my sisters, we had to go over there, to get them to let us into the room to get towels. Dad was in no rush, said as I had told him that it was hot outside, 90 degrees you know, and asked how I could be cold, that I'd dry off in a few minutes, and why didn't I bring a towel when told to get my stuff? I was very cold for a while, but in this case no worse for the wear.
My Dad, warned me but then gave me the liberty to do as I pleased, as my decision did not infringe upon his or anybody else's well being. He allowed my little brother to learn that following people who make stupid decisions may not always be in your best interest. Both of us were allowed to suffer the consequences of a stupid decision. As a kid it took a few more times to learn that when dad says "I don't think that's a good idea," then I nag him to get what I want, and he replies "I can take it if you can" that was a clue that I was about to do something stupid. When he said "I can take it if you can," he never meant I'll do the stupid thing too, but meant that it would be no skin off his nose if I did something stupid. Like challenging my dad and little brother to an ICEE chugging contest, "Not a good idea," he didn't participate but let us do it. That contest was not in our best interest. Can you say brain freeze?
Stupid hurts, and boys growing up sometimes do stupid. Wisdom, however, is learned not by being smart (the opposite of stupid) but by learning the consequences of stupid through personal experience or observation. Swimming in an 80 degree pool, in 90 degree weather in sunny Florida at an elevation of 10 feet with a relative humidity of 80% is not only not stupid, but a wonderful way to end a day. Swimming in an 80 degree pool, in 90 degree weather in sunny New Mexico at an elevation of over 5000 feet with a relative humidity of 2% is stupid, but also a good way to learn what dad means when he says "I can take it if you can."
Other then the physical reality of evaporative cooling at high elevations in deserts is effective, what wisdom did I gain from my dad saying "I can take it if you can?" Well I realized that choices have consequences, that experiencing some consequences is a better teacher than just being told, that it is better to learn the consequences from the experience of others than from suffering, that listening to people who've been there and done that is not stupid. Mostly I learned that in conjunction with having freedom and liberty goes the duty to live with the consequences. I learned that wisdom and intelligence don't go hand in hand, as I've seen a lot of smart people do stupid stuff.
What my dad taught by allowing me to freeze my butt off while himself remaining dry and comfortable, was that I shouldn't expect him to suffer my stupid choices. This is a lesson I never would have learned from my mom, who not ever wanting anybody to suffer, especially her children, dictated and curtailed freedom with the threat (and reality) of a spanking if we did stuff she didn't think in our best interest. Liberty and freedom to mom were not as important as avoiding cuts, scrapes, broken bones, etc. Dad on the other hand might warn against the stupidity of an action, but if it wasn't deadly generally would allow us the joy and happiness our decisions might bring, but also to learn from stupid.
Dad had the power to enforce his decisions, he chose however not to use that power. He believed that even as a mere boy, that I should be free to do as I please so long as I didn't infringe upon others, or in some cases scare the crap out of mom. He believed that to wisely exercise liberty a man had to grow up learning the consequences of exercising liberty. As a child I wasn't given unlimited liberty but was allowed liberty and the consequences wherever prudent. If I was shielded from the consequences of making decisions I wouldn't learn to think things through, consider the consequences, and make wise decisions. Being allowed to take risks, and enjoy both the rewards of taking successful risks and suffer the consequences of unsuccessful risks, taught wisdom. That is the pursuit of happiness, not a guarantee of happiness. Being allowed to pursue the joy of playing in a pool does not guarantee happiness, because making that decision while disregarding the wisdom of others I could freeze my butt off.
If mom had her way, as in the often repeated words of "Don't let them do that," I'd never have suffered the consequences of bad decisions, I also would never be allowed to take any risk, and if I did, she'd try to make it better. I remember clearly mom wanting to buy me a souvenir when I didn't have the money because my brothers and sisters were getting keepsakes and I wasn't. Dad said no, I choose to spend my money on overpriced ice cream when warned that I wouldn't be able to get something later. They had a brief argument, where mom said it wasn't fair that I'd have to do without a lasting keepsake that my siblings got and I wouldn't. Dad was firm, saying it wouldn't be fair that I got ice cream when I didn't listen to the advice of mom and dad and the others didn't. Why should I be allowed to get both ice cream and a memento? That is what is not fair. "The boy's got to learn that choices have consequences"; among them sacrificing for the future has benefits over always having what you want now.
We now have generations of people who never learned by suffering the consequences of bad decisions. They chose to live unwisely, and expect others to bail them out because of their choices don't pan out. Bankers make bad investments in people who have no realistic means of repaying mortgages, rather than going out of business and suffering the consequences of those choices, they not only expect, but receive bail outs that are paid for by people who made wise life choices. Because they did not and will not suffer the consequences of bad decisions, they can and will make those same bad decisions. When the results are continued bonuses and big paychecks, why would they change their decisions; why not take great risks, no matter the outcome they will prosper. Failure to suffer the consequences of bad decisions, both individually and corporately, not only does not discourage anybody from making bad decisions, but encourages more people to make those same bad decisions. If you want more of a behavior, subsidize it and insulate those who engage in that behavior from suffering the consequences of that behavior.