A Liberal Helping

I should collect a book of Dumb Things to Say to Your Kid so that parents don’t miss saying all of them. A parent’s stupid expressions build character in a child. They instill independent thinking, critical judgment, and the wisdom never to trust a parent. In the right kind of kid, parental stupidity can build liberality as well—the state of being open, critically open, to new things. A liberal soul entertains new ideas without necessarily letting them move in as permanent residents. She enjoys instability and ambiguity and welcomes surprises without worrying whether they’ll be pleasant ones. Such a child will grow up skilled in the hot pursuit of happiness.

On the top of the list of stupid things to say to a kid is “Try it, you’ll like it.” Any child with an innate sense of logic knows this to be nonsense. Kids are as conservative as cats. Anything new is, by definition, detestable. But I still believe in saying it. You hope it will instill liberality in the long run. My own children refused to eat just about anything that wasn’t colored white. I gave them the try-it-you’ll-like-it line repeatedly, and they responded with predictable scorn. Today they are complete, adventurous omnivores, both of them excellent cooks. I give myself full credit.

All this came back to me recently when I shared on Facebook the UN’s recommendation that the world eat more bugs. First of all, this is exactly the sort of cause the UN should stand for. Very few national organizations have the cosmopolitanism to recommend insect eating. This is a very global and disinterested attitude, uninfluenced by the cattle, corn, and pink slime interests.

And what did people say when I posted it? The word “never” came up a lot.

Full disclosure: I’m pro bug. I have consumed more than my share, much of it intentionally. One time, when I was a senior editor at National and International Wildlife Magazines, a congressional staffer came to visit. We served snacks, and I gave a little slide show on South Africa’s magnificent Kruger Park. The snacks were Kruger foods: canned elephant, along with a fried snack with a juicy center. Delicious. The congressional staffer loved the crunchy things and continued eating them through my slide show. Eventually I came to the big reveal: the crunchy things were a traditional South African treat called mopane worms, the larval stage of the mammoth moth. The woman had scarfed a bag of bugs. You could see the realization glow on her face, and then she put her hand over her mouth and ran out of the room. I never saw her again.

Illiberal. And I think she was a Democrat.