When I was a kid, I loved to learn and share what I learned. I read voraciously and absorbed information like a sponge.
And I tried to make use of that information.
I loved mystery stories and learned to read between the lines to decipher who did it. And sometimes I’d “read between the lines” of other things I learned, adding 2 plus 2 but getting 5. Years later when I was a reporter, that intuition helped me a great deal — but sometimes you can jump to too quick a conclusion.
I learned that in the first grade.
Thanks to my grandmother, who took me to the library and read to me from the time I was an infant, I was able to read books with few or no pictures by the time I entered school. And I was pretty proud of it. I wasn’t very athletic or fast, but at least I was able to do something that was better than my classmates.
So one day when our teacher was explaining that the place where the earth and sky seem to join is known as the horizon, I had to stop to correct her.
I had no doubt she was right about it being the horizon; she was just pronouncing it wrong.
There were a lot of words in my young vocabulary, and although I’d never heard of “horizon” I knew “horizontal” And I knew horizontal was pronounced “hor-izz-ontal”
So I knew my poor teacher was mispronouncing horizon. It should be “hor-izz-on” But she was pronouncing it, “hor-eye-zin” So I corrected her, in front of the entire class.
Even when the teacher patiently and kindly explained that I was wrong but it was an understandable mistake nonetheless, I insisted that SHE was wrong.
When I finally learned the truth, I’d been taken down a notch and discovered the hard way that the English language was much more complicated than I’d ever suspected.
I used to believe the last line of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was “Then all the reindeer loved him, and they shouted out with glee: ‘Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, you’ll go down in his story’”
Whose story, I used to wonder, and where could I read it?.
Thankfully my father finally explained that Rudolph would go down in history. But it took a while before I was able to confirm that he was right.
My aunt cured me of much of my know-it-all-ism when I was spending a week at her home in Garfield Heights. I was probably in the third or fourth grade. Somehow the discussion got around to police dogs. I said to her that police dogs are usually German shepherds. But Aunt Betty told me no, that numerous breeds serve as police dogs.
Well, I was SURE I was right. But given my track record, I’d learned to double-check, just to be REALLY sure. So I grabbed a nearby dictionary and looked up “police dog” It said: 1. A dog trained to assist police. 2. A German shepherd.
I was right. So I figured Aunt Betty would want to know. I brought the dictionary over to her, pointed to the definition and said, “Look. Under police dog, it says ‘German shepherd’” I guess I thought my aunt would be happy to learn something new. I thought wrong.
The dictionary got tossed across the room and my aunt screamed at me: “You! You always have to be right, don’t you!!”
I learned two important lessons out of all this:
One, if you are going to insist that you’re right, be sure you’re right.
And two, even if you are right, you don’t always need to tell someone.