Children are around a million times smarter than adults. They play outside, tell people their opinions straight, and finagle their way into forbidden bedtimes, junk foods, and TV shows.
There’s a lot we could learn from children, but we probably shouldn’t make their heads any larger then they are already (both metaphorically and biologically. Kudos to every mother ever on that one). We can learn even more from children’s authors — because they’re the ones who teach kids to wise up and have ethics and all that jazz (this all comes straight from literature. No parenting plays a role.)
And when it comes to children’s authors, my favorite is Norton Juster, author of “The Phantom Tollbooth.” Why? Because he lays low… there haven’t been any sequels to the book and, in the age of Harry Potter, there hasn’t even been a live action film made.*
So without further ado, here are just a few lessons that we can learn from The Phantom Tollbooth. As it turns out, Juster is a very wise guy indeed.
1) Choose your words carefully: I’m looking at you, talk radio. In the land of Dictionopolis, Milo is arrested because he and his companions have been careless with their words (which function as sort of a currency there. Hence the “diction”). Maybe we can’t arrest people, given free speech and everything, ** but I promise you that if you are consistently sloppy with your words, the consequences will catch up with you. I mean, remember how the words “47 percent” tanked a presidential campaign?
2) Most people are not exceptional: Sorry 20 somethings, hang up your guitar by it’s straps and go find a day job. In the middle of the woods, Milo finds a shack purporting to be the home of “the shortest tall man in the world.” On subsequent visits, the same guy claims to be the tallest short man in the world, the thinnest fat man in the world, and the fattest thin man in the world. Guess what? He’s just a dude. People talk too much about how fantastically extraordinary they are. Mostly in college classrooms.
3) Don’t assume: In Digitopolis (land of numbers, y’all), Milo is offered something to eat — he accepts, only to find himself growing more and more ravenous with each bowl. Turns out it’s subtraction stew, and the people in Digitopolis start eating when they’re full and stop when they’re hungry. So when you are in a new environment, why don’t you just sit back and those who know their way around lead a little bit? There’s no need to pretend you know Portuguese — and now you’ve just ordered us all sheep’s head.
4) Know your limits: Milo comes across a conductor in the woods whose job is to conduct the day — as he lifts his hands, the sun rises, and he doesn’t stop conducting until nightfall. When the conductor is resting, Milo decides to try his hand at conducting — and before he knows it the sky is purple, it’s snowing, and three weeks have passed. Just…don’t do that. Don’t say you can volunteer 20 hours of week after work, don’t say that you’re going to run a marathon this year if you’ve never laced up your sneakers, and definitely don’t do a keg stand. People will still like you when you’re not pretending to be able to do ridiculous things.
5) Boredom is underrated: Seriously, have you ever been so bored you wanted to find yourself lost and alone in a foreign land with a vital mission to accomplish and death around every corner? Milo only got himself into that hot mess because he was bored. And if you feel similarly, check your birth certificate, because your name is surely Lindsay Lohan or Vinn Diesel. Just pop in “Step Brothers.” See? Boredom gone.
*Apparently there is an animated film. I refuse to acknowledge the veracity of that claim.
**There are days when I’d be willing to reconsider that right. This day, for example.