My freshly kindergarten-ed daughter has been learning all sorts of stuff at her new school.
Last weekend, for instance, she missed a ping pong shot and chucked a McEnroe-esque hissy fit while bawling “oh s—t”. (Lesson from school number one: swearing gets results.)
When I launched into my umpteenth Why Profanity Really Isn’t Such a Great Idea for Five Year Olds lecture, Alice asked a bunch of questions along the lines of “what does s—t even mean?”, “don’t YOU sometimes say s—t? and “does it count if I just say s—t quietly on my own?”
In short, she exploited my interest in teachable moments by repeating the objectionable expression as much as possible.
(Lesson from school number two: the use-mention distinction rocks.)
Alice’s next move was to claim that saying “s—t” was actually part of her school’s literacy program and something all children had to learn to do even if they found it – her word – challenging.
So I presented my umpteenth Why I’d Really Prefer You Didn’t Tell Whoppin’ Great Porkies About School position paper, leaving her gazing up in horrified amazement.
“But how could you have known?” she gasped. “How could you have possibly known I was lying?”
(Lesson from school number three: epistemology is a deeply mysterious and deeply disturbing business.)
At this point I tried to explain that I didn’t want her fibbing about important things not because she might get busted, but because it wasn’t a good thing to do.
“I want you to act well even if you think no-one’s watching,” I said, thinking how much easier these sorts of conversations would be if one was up for telling one’s child that God was hovering up in the stratosphere omni-observing for behavioural lapses.
The good (non biblical) news for non-believers struggling with dilemmas such as these, is that British pop philosopher Alain de Botton has pragmatically poached many useful aspects of religion to produce yet another of his excellent user guides to being a human.
As pit bull atheists and Rottweiler Christians rip viciously at each other’s equally indoctrinated ears, Religion for Atheists offers an optimistic détente for those of us passionate about living good lives yet anaphylactically allergic to Rick Santorum.
It doesn’t address ping pong-related profanity directly, but its suggestion that we view taxes as spiritually-enriching donations, that we muse on forgiveness while dining with strangers, and that we stage secular days of atonement at least as often as we lodge Business Activity Statements are very educational.
* Alain de Botton is currently touring Australia. He’s unlikely to be expleting.
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