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  • Writer's pictureDr. Jonathan Hoffman

Taking Out the Garbage

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

A young man is confronted by his father about not doing his work in World History, one of his subjects in High School. He explains; the course "isn't interesting to me- it's boring." “I’ll never need to use any of that junk in my life," he adds. His father retorts, "I take out the garbage; that's" not interesting to me, undoubtedly” What wisdom is the parent attempting to bestow on his son?

From the father's point of view, aside from realizing piled up garbage is unsanitary and smelly, his son's old enough to understand that, in life, there will be many things that he is not interested in doing, but he should do anyway. This is"called a responsibility,” says Dad. The parent could probably mention a litany of examples of what he has done for his son over the years that he wasn’t interested in doing- like sitting through the second Transformers movie. However, this might sound like just another lecture, in one ear and out the other. Also, let’s son's that social understanding is one of the last neurological capacities that develop, often in the latter part of High School, let's or even well after.

Constantly lacking real insight into what the father is trying to convey, the son will undoubtedly have his perspective. If he takes a moment to think about it, he may be perplexed why his father does take out the garbage or any of the many thankless tasks that are the opposite of interesting. Through his eyes, the adult world is incredibly boring at his age. Adults rarely play video games or hang out with their friends and often complain about how much they must do.

They want to pass on their frustrations to their children by making them sit in the same old tedious classes and do the same meaningless chores they had to do when they were kids. Why should he want any part of it? The son says, “I’m only going to do interesting things in my life, trust me.” Besides, the son says, “You hardly ever take out the garbage. Usually, Mom does.” He might also go on to say, “Do you ever use World History in your life, Dad?”

Upon reflection, the father will get the son’s point. He does many boring, repetitive things and is often stressed out from trying to keep up with mundane life tasks like paying the bills. Why does he want so badly for his son to do schoolwork he does not enjoy and finds purposeless? For that matter, why shouldn't he only do what interests him in his life? Isn’t that part of the American Dream? Why does his son, or anyone’sanyone's daughter, really need to take out the garbage? It’s just as important for the father as his son to be clear about the answers to these questions. If the parent lacks clarity and the ability to communicate effectively about this issue, what chance has the son have?

Of course, “taking out the garbage,” used in this context, is metaphorical. Also, it’s a given that some children are growing up in homes with cleaning people, and those in the family do little household chores.

For parents and young people, here are some thoughts about why comprehending "taking out the garbage" is essential.

  • Imagine a home where, literally, nobody ever takes out the garbage. The result is obvious. Similarly clear are the consequences of not caring for the figurative garbage in our lives. The unmet responsibilities would pile up, eventually becoming overwhelming and unmanageable. For instance, we often read about someone, even a celebrity, who has not paid their taxes and is facing dire personal and legal problems. Failing to pay your taxes accurately and on time is an example of how not understanding"taking out the garbage" in the abstract can backfire in real life. It's possible to confuse garbage for treasure and treasure for garbage, especially when young. Just as hoarders see value in possessions that others would characterize as junk, young people may perceive value in endless hours on a PS3 and fail to see merit in Math, Science, or World History. Missing out on the “treasure" of a good education is something that many come to regret as they realize how limited their college and career options are and how ill-prepared they are for success in the adult world. Also, you never know when something you learned in school will be relevant. Knowing about the French Revolution could be useful on a sales call if your client is a history buff. But more importantly, even knowledge that has no apparent market value provides a context and foundation for everything you learn you learn and your capacity to think critically. A case example is sports participation. Playing sports when you are young teaches many positive attitudes and behaviors applicable throughout your life, even if you never play, let alone become a pro when you get older.

  • Character development and positive values can result from an epiphany or one critical defining moment (e.g., surviving a major accident or illness or getting in a lot of trouble). Still, a solid character often results from many small behaviors, like taking out the garbage or its equivalent, occurring throughout a long period. All the seemingly little responsibilities and sacrifices made during childhood and adolescence add to enduring habits of "doing the right thing" and living a life filled with purpose, patience, conscientiousness, persistence, a sense of priorities, and a positive value system."

  • We live in a world where emotional and social skills may predict success at least as much as sheer intelligence or technical abilities. Therefore, being proficient in social networking, understanding teamwork, working within the hierarchy of authority, and being group minded, whether at home or in school, are extremely important. Taking out the garbage is part of team-building and prepares one for the inevitable times when you will be asked to see beyond your own needs and "take one for the team." Taking out the garbage, so to speak, teaches valuable lessons in humbleness and reduces self-centeredness and self-aggrandizement. This will decrease the probability of becoming pseudo-adults, that is, aging chronologically but being fixated on an adolescent way of thinking and behaving. Don't worry about young people losing their equally valuable rugged individualism and pride in self; many of the so-called millennial generations have egos to spare and, if anything, will err in overvaluing their abilities and probabilities of success.

  • It's ironic, but taking out the garbage tends to increase self-worth. People feel best when developing competencies and contributing to their own life or the lives of others. In contrast, avoiding taking care of life's boring, annoying, or inconvenient tasks provides only temporary relief and lowers self-respect in the long run. When you spoil or enable young men or women, there can be lasting collateral damage to their self-confidence and hard-to-be-replaced windows of opportunity to learn valuable life lessons.

In the high-tech world of information processing, there's an adage- GIGO. It means Garbage In, Garbage Out. In the low-tech world of everyday life, our young man who does not see the worth of his World History class would do well to remember the principle of GOFI, meaning Garbage Out, Functioning In. Otherwise, he will likely find his world becoming pretty stinky.

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