There are many people my age who associate the children’s magazine Highlights with anxiety since the magazine was a staple in doctors’ and dentists’ offices. We, however, didn’t read that magazine in those locations because we got it at home. It was a monthly staple in our home and we turned to it for craft ideas and enjoyed its cartoons. I think we learned a few life lessons from the reading.

The magazine was less than subtle. The cartoon “Goofus and Gallant” wasn’t funny in the way that many of our favorite cartoons were. It was a direct lesson in manners. “Goofus bosses his friends; Gallant asks, ‘What do you want to do next?’” “Goofus takes the last apple; Gallant shares his orange.” The lesson was obvious. Be kind despite the fact that there are folks in the world who are not kind. There are some problems with the cartoon, however. You always knew who was the good guy and who was the bad guy. Despite over 60 years of cartoons, Goofus continued to always be rude, selfish and annoying. He never met any punishment for his actions and he never changed his ways. No one ever tried to understand why he was such a jerk. And no one ever tried to change him. Likewise, there never was a reward for Gallant’s polite behavior. He just went on to the next issue. The lesson was clear: be nice despite the impulsive, mean people in the world.

My life is very different. When, on occasion, I am the victim of mean or impulsive behavior of another, I might react with an intense burst of emotion, but in most cases, I need to quickly remind myself that the other is a person who is capable of change. I try to look at the reasons for the rude behavior and in most cases, there is a person who needs to be given a bit of extra leeway. Perhaps that person has just suffered a loss or is experiencing challenges. Perhaps that person really wants to have positive relationships but lacks the skill to pull them off. You’d think that after 60 years of bad behavior, Goofus would, at a bare minimum, be a very lonely person after having offended all of his friends.

One of my favorite features in the magazine was called “Spot the Differences.” At first glance, the two pictures appeared to be the same. But if you studied the pictures, you would notice small differences. Perhaps the rabbit ears on the television set were turned in a different direction in one of the pictures. A common difference was a change in the number of clouds in the sky. The shading of a character’s clothes might be different. A balloon might have a string in one picture and none in the other. A character might have a watch in one and none in the other. You get the picture. Most of the time I could spot some of the differences easily, but when I counted the number of differences, I would fall short of the number the magazine claimed. Usually, I was quickly down to hunting for one or two differences. When I gave the process enough time and focus, I could usually finally find all of the changes. It did, however, require discipline. Later, when our children were growing up, I found a similar call for focus when looking at their “Where’s Waldo?” pictures. Maybe the feature taught some children about how our minds sift and sort images because we are so visually overloaded most of the time. What it taught me was the skill of focusing attention. It wasn’t so much the practice of seeing. I’ve long worn glasses and others see better than I. However, if I could clear my mind of distractions and focus my attention, I could usually find the subtle differences. That ability to focus helps with many of my contemporary practices, including the practice of silence and prayer.

There was another feature in the magazine called “What’s Wrong?” You were supposed to look at a cartoon picture to discover the things that were out of place. Some were pretty easy, like a chandelier filled with water or the rain falling only under the umbrella. I didn’t enjoy that feature as much simply because from my point of view, the entire scene would be wrong. The picture was an absurdity in its entirety as well as in the details. If the scene was a birthday party, for example, I’d think to myself, “No one has a living room that holds that many people!” The pictures themselves were so absurd that the penguin sitting on the sofa didn’t seem any more strange than the fact that the artist drew all of the people walking straight legged with no bent knees. Is a snowman being indoors more absurd than a snowman with feet? And why isn’t the snowman melting? Is it really that cold inside? I was continually coming up with things that I thought were wrong that were not the ones the artist intended to be discovered.

Highlights is still publishing a magazine for children. It costs about $40 a year to subscribee. They also have magazines called “Hello” for children under 2 and “High Five” for children 2 to 6 years old. They also have online subscriptions and applications for mobile devices. But I haven’t seen a physical issue of the magazine for many years. I don’t think that they are present in my doctor’s or dentist’s offices. Then again, I don’t frequent pediatricians these days, so there may be doctors’ offices that still have the magazines. We didn’t subscribe to the magazines for our children and I’m not sure why I remembered the magazine when I was thinking of topics for my blog.

I suspect that what I like about the memory of the magazine is that it pointed to a time when we had agreement about right and wrong. Everyone knew who you should emulate: Gallant, not Goofus. These days politeness isn’t a virtue celebrated by much of our media.

At any rate, the memory is pleasant and if I do see a copy lying around one of these days, I hope they still have “Spot the Differences.” I already know how Goofus and Gallant will turn out.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!