Digest>Archives> August 1997

Knowledge Can Lie in the Power of Words

By Ed DeCourcy


Cases have been recorded of boys who were not big fans of homework. Why should they care what was the capital of Peru?

What does a boy care about the meaning of words? He might, if he pays attention, discover that words can make a difference in his life. My wife, Alice, had an ancestor who was a lighthouse keeper on the Maine coast, who learned the power of words, knowledge that brightened his life.

Lighthouse keepers, then and now, were important people. They can -and do- save lives. Most of them knew the fun of words, and used them to enlighten visitors to the importance of the lighthouse. Sometimes such visitors lack charm, and since lighthouse keepers have many important duties, which take precedence over entertaining - or even educating such citizens, they want to get on with their primary responsibility of protecting the citizens who are on the ships at sea.

Uncle Charles, who had ample charm, did understand that responsibility, and he understood, also, how to use words, two words particularly. Those words were "WET PAINT." So he put those words on a piece of cardboard, and on days when entertaining visitors - even though he was aware that they were taxpayers - was less important to the lighthouse service than his other duties, he hung that cardboard at the bottom or the stairs and went right ahead with his lighthouse chores.

It worked. He was cordial to the visitors, but they did not expect him to climb with them to the top of the tower. He could, if the visitors were bright, engage them in learned and interesting Coast Guard lore and sent them on their way, understanding and enthusiastic cheerleaders for the Coast Guard's mission, which is critical and exciting.

So a boy need not be aware that the capital of Peru is Lima, but if he lives in New England, he might find it useful to know that the capital of Vermont is Montpelier and even more useful if he can tell a stranger how to get there. Friendships can be seeded by such knowledge and can grow to enrich lives. Only a sour cynic or a worshipper of the bottle can have to many friends.

So, let the boy who would rather be fishing than doing his homework, learn that "knowledge is power," as the R.O.T.C. manual taught us, and you can never be sure that you won't find it useful - even profitable - to know that the capital of Maine is Augusta.

And if conscientious homework implants such knowledge in our brains, who is to gainsay it?

This story appeared in the August 1997 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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