I Am Not Streetsmart

As yesterday’s story can tell you, I’m not very streetsmart in the least. Being a trusting person who grew up in a stable and loving environment with two parents, siblings, emotional and physical stability, going to church regularly, and a remarkable absence of substance abuse, I assume other people are the same way.

At my own peril.

The truth is that the way I grew up was already become rare in the 1980; at least half of the kids I grew up with had divorced parents.

I also didn’t grow up poor, so I didn’t learn those lessons people who’ve worked themselves out of poverty have learned (looking at you, Ed Latimore), but I’m happy never having experienced that.

The thing is, having a normal, stable upbringing is viewed as being a disadvantage.

I beg to differ in all but one aspect. Having a comfortable, stable background with loving, still-married parents has taught me plenty of things:

  • The world is not unrelentingly depressing, mean, and horrible.
  • Good people do exist.
  • It’s okay to trust people, because many people are trustworthy.
  • Hard work and discipline can pay off.
  • Normal man-woman relationships for the purposes of raising children are not only possible, but worth pursuing.
  • Family and legacy matter.
  • It is important to be classy, in appearance, word, thought, and deee.
  • Money doesn’t buy class.
  • Money isn’t the source of all happiness.

And I never had a problem acquiring a work ethic. I always had summer jobs since the age of 13, and I and my siblings were expected to pull our own weight. I didn’t need to grow up in the ghetto to learn and appreciate the importance of hustle and grind.

So screw all that “Only people who grew up poor know how to hustle” nonsense. If this were true, than Venezuela is the hardest-working country in history.

Seriously, if this were true, all the world’s poorest nations should be the most advanced within a generation or two. But I digress.

Now about that one aspect I mentioned: I’m quite naïve.

At least, I used to be. I used to project my own trusting nature on to others, and then be crushed when it was proven false.

That’s the one thing a hardscrabble upbringing teaches at an early age that I had to really learn and internalize in my 30s: people are awful.

Seriously, I’ve become so paranoid and untrusting in a breathtakingly rapid fashion in the past five or so years. I’ve had plenty of experiences that have taught me this. Remind me to share one from my business school days.

I’ve learned not to take anything anyone says at face value, and to be suspicious about everything.

Isn’t that terrible? But please, I dare you, tell me where I’m wrong.

Anyway, it’s important to stay paranoid and never trust without verification.

Never trust strangers to do what they say they will.

Rarely trust colleagues to do what they say they will.

Trust your friends to do what they say they will . . . but be willing to be disappointed.

Trust your family to do what they say they will . . . but again, be willing to be disappointed.

I’ve learned the lesson that you can only rely on yourself to do anything.

I add caveat to this for us religious types: you can also rely on God.

But keeping this secular for Current Year, this is the lesson that it’s tough for those of us with good, happy, stable, and relatively affluent upper-middle-class upbringings to learn: you can’t trust anyone.

Maybe some of this is societal too. As America becomes less a coherent nation and more a multiethnic, Balkanized empire held together by threat of physical violence, as the very meaning of “American” is diluted, bastardized, and redefined out of all logical bounds, it’s only natural we’re becoming more and more of a low-trust society with higher in-group preferences than when I was growing up . . . especially as our formerly trusted institutions keep failing us over and over.

It’s sad, but that’s life.

My main question, though, is: how does one teach this without raiding a bitter cynic?

I am yet to see any child-rearing books or websites about how to teach streetsmarts and justifiable paranoia.

“I highly recommend this book for weird fiction fans and anyone who wants an example of how to modernize the old formula without ruining its mystique.”


  1. Ha! I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. I used to worry about raising my own kids because if you do a good job and produce healthy, well adjusted individuals, how in the heck are they ever going to survive in this asylum??

    As to trusting people, I was once really blessed by the realization that Jesus trusted Judas…to be Judas. We tend to project our own expectations on other people, rather than just accepting and adapting to who they are. You can totally trust a bad guy…to be a bad guy, an addict to be an addict, and so forth. Also, love demands a certain amount of risk. It’s going to break your heart sometimes, disappoint you. Use your brain, but trust as much as you can afford to.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a great way of putting it: we have to trust people to be who they are. The proverbial scorpion will always be a scorpion. As always, Jesus had it right.

      That’s the thing though, isn’t it? How do we expect good people to survive a fallen world? I worry about this all the time. The world, and the people in it, are largely utterly worthless until proven otherwise.

      They’re proven otherwise quite often, but my problem has been assuming people are good as the default. The default position should be the opposite until proven otherwise.


  2. My mom taught me not to trust any words and to expect disappointment from everyone because of her inability to let grudges go. And my dad taught me, the same, to expect disappointment because he was a liar who never did anything for me. History repeats itself so I can expect similar things from strangers who are remarkably similar to people from my past.
    I like what IB says about trusting Judas to be Judas because that’s kind of what we have to learn and teach… to understand character traits, personalities, even psychology at a level that makes us good predictors with healthy margin of doubt.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Alexander,
    Same as you but divorced parents were unheard of. And not in my neighborhood. We all had stable families.
    However in my case my learning disability taught me early on that kids and adults fixate too much on perception and can keadcthem to be cruel. Also you’ll disappoint people as much as they disappoint you too

    How not to fall cynical?
    God loves you but didn’t make you idiots. Test all things and by your fruits you’ll know them. That’s pretty solid advice from the Creator. So let’s apply it

    As for teaching kids streetsmarts. Gotta use the old fashioned word:prudence. So that means reading Socrates and his crew with Jesus and his posse.

    Take a look at St John Bosco founder of the Salesians and St Dominic Savio the teen he mentored to sainthood.

    SS François Louis and Zelie the first husband and wife couple saints (mom and dad to St Theres de Liseux) can also be helpful

    The Common Tradition and the Orthodox saints also have other teen saintss and parents to inspire us


    Liked by 2 people

    • The saints do provide great examples, as always. That said, it pays to be distrustful given our fallen nature. Prudence is the key—never accept anything at face value unless you know the person very well. And even then, be wary.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. —I learned the hard way, coming from a loving stable family and being too nice led to a lot of heartache till I began learning how bad some people can be, to stand up for myself etc. I try to be smarter with whom I help or invest time and feelings into.

    —At the same time, there are genuinely good people out there and whenever I interact with them it’s a joy and a reminder of how good we can all be.


    Liked by 1 person

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