Growing Up Sesame

I have, at various points in my life, been accused of being overly altruistic, naive, and trusting. I have also worked with the chemically dependent, the incarcerated, and the severely and persistently mentally ill. Let's just say I've learned a few lessons the hard way.

I've had the good (or bad, depending on your vantage point) fortune of experiencing the great extremes of human behavior. And I still, to some degree, find all that fascinating.

There are lessons I've learned, and continue to learn, but others I've staunchly avoided fully incorporating into my repertoire, i.e. that people are not fundamentally good, people are motivated by greed and/or self-interest, and that the default demeanor for many individuals is not 'nice'.

I blame Sesame Street.

I watched a lot of Sesame Street when I was young, with healthy portions of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood and Reading Rainbow folded in for good measure.

When I was young, I got burnt, steamrolled, toasted, bamboozled, zinged, and railroaded. Yet I continue to believe that people are fundamentally good, and no one's intention is to hurt anyone else.

Why? Two words: The Muppets. In a world where the least palatable characters were Oscar the Grouch and Bert, I never had the opportunity to truly experience negativity. Oscar was a grouch because he had to be. I assume he was contractually obligated. Plus, he lived in a trashcan. And Bert? Well, if I had room with Ernie, I'd be a bit cranky myself. I mean, who did he think he was, parading those boogie woogie sheep through the house at all hours?

I've come to realize there was a decided lack of negative influence in my early life, a fate from which I may not have personally benefited, but one I can only wish for my children.

I am frequently and significantly torn on this issue. Would I have rather experienced corruption, greed, hatred, or violence? Probably not.

It is obvious to me the only way to learn such difficult and painful lessons is through time and experience. I do feel problems arise, though, when one continues to believe, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, that everything is okay, everyone means well, and no one will ever hurt you. I also believe that is an accurate interpretation of the definition of insanity.

So what do I teach my children? To be skeptical? To be paranoid? To be distant? To skip down Lollipop Lane oblivious to society's shortcomings? To steal off to a cabin in the woods and never return?

I don't want to hurt my children. I don't want my desire for all to be right with the world to somehow handicap them. I don't want them to suffer due to my refusal to shine a permanent light on the dark corners of this life. I just want them to be happy.

So what do I do? How do I strike that delicate balance between showing them what's right with the world and what's wrong? What do I teach them about the bullies, the thieves, and the opportunists? Because I don't ever want to see them shed a tear at the hand, word, or whim of another. And they really seem to enjoy Sesame Street.