When I was in fifth grade we read a story about a kid (it was probably a boy but I no longer recall the details) who was granted two wishes. Why two wishes? Don’t wishes normally come in sets of three?
I don’t know, but probably for the purposes of keeping the story short enough to make a convenient one day reading assignment for a fifth grader.
Anyway what I do recall is our teacher, Miss Klopp—that would be Miss Irene Klopp, who taught part of fifth and all of sixth grades, not to be confused with her sister, Miss Margaret Klopp, who taught part of third and part of fourth grades, the other parts of fourth and fifth grades being handled by relatively newly hired Mrs. Loos, a preacher’s wife—but that’s neither here nor there.
So as we were discussing the two wishes story, Miss Klopp asked us each to describe what we would wish for if given the same deal. I think she had alerted us the day before, so we had a day to come up with our wishes.
When my turn came, I didn’t hesitate: “I’d wish for every poor man to have enough money to feed his family, and I want to know everything there is to know.”
I can still hear Miss Klopp clucking approvingly over my first wish, while dismissing the second.
Although many years have passed, I think if in some magical fantasy I were to be granted two wishes, I might very well opt for two similar sentiments, although I would certainly remove the sexist phrasing and update the language in other ways. For example, instead of “knowing everything there is to know” I might ask for “the unlimited ability to absorb knowledge from a wide variety of sources, synthesize it, and with the concomitant talent for spreading it widely and accurately.”
But there is something that I’ve always wondered about that first wish. Where did that altruistic streak come from?
I mean, in the small town of Richland where I grew up, we really didn’t have any poor people as such, at least none that I knew. I don’t recall having anything drilled into me about being kind to poor people either at home or at school. I did go to Sunday School (under duress, I might add), but the lessons there were rarely about being kind to the poor, although I’d guess the topic would come up from time to time.
My point is, I just never could understand where the idea was born in me to use up 50% of my precious wishes on an altruistic cause.
Because science, as it so often does, has provided an answer.
It was the comic books. The comic books that my mother complained I spent way too much time reading. The comic books that my parents even tried to toss into the trash (although thankfully recovered by the Diefenbach boys, and, during the cover of night, by me, after hearing where they had hidden them, at which point I kept them hidden from my parents until I eventually handed them over to Leonard Yingst for preservation, but I’m digressing again).
You see, I was a big fan of superhero comic books. The DC variety. Superman was my favorite, with Batman a close second. But I also enjoyed the Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Aquaman, well, if DC published them, and Irvin Wolfskill’s Sugar Bowl, a combination soda fountain/news stand, stocked them, I devoured them.
And now science has demonstrated that being exposed to superheroes can increase altruistic behavior.
So take that, anyone who has ever criticized their kid for reading comic books. That kid might be the next Albert Schweitzer.