I was driving recently with my cousin’s son, Seth. He’s 19, but having lived with a mentally and physically ill mother until her recent death, there are some areas in which Seth is still quite “young.” Until now, he’s never paid a bill and did not know how to write a check. It’s been a steep learning curve. Yet I find most aspects of Seth’s greenness refreshing, to be honest. It’s as if he’s seeing much of the world for the first time.
As we drove between offices, settling yet more paperwork in the wake of his mother’s passing, Seth was checking social media from his phone. Somehow, he wound up coming across a riddle and read it to me. You may have heard it:
A doctor and a boy went fishing. The boy is the doctor’s son, but the doctor is not the boy’s father. How can this be?
After a mere few moments, Seth quirked his mouth quizzically and said, “That doesn’t make sense. It’s impossible. Do you get it?”
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m more about teaching a man to fish than handing him a fish. In fact, Chapter 21 of The Best Advice So Far has this central advice:
THE BEST ADVICE SO FAR: Asking the right kind
of questions works better than making statements.
There are, of course, times when a straightforward reply is best. In this case, however, with a young man who suddenly finds himself needing to approach life’s problems with a new level of independence, it seemed the process of solving the riddle might be more beneficial than simply impressing him with my own ability to arrive at the answer.
I glanced quickly at him out of the corner of my eye as he waited in expectation of my reply.
“Seth, you just told me that ‘it’s impossible’; but you also asked if I could solve it. You can’t believe both of those things at the same time: that it’s impossible to solve and that I might be able to solve it.”
I let that sit for a few seconds. “I guess you’re right,” he conceded sheepishly. “But I don’t see how it could be true.”
“You only spent about 5 seconds before you decided your own idea was right and that the riddle must be wrong. But many times in life — most times, in fact — the first perspective we have on something isn’t the right one. At least it’s not entirely right.”
“How’d you get so smart?” he asked.
“I’ve lived a while and paid attention,” I said with a smirk and raised eyebrow, “which you can do just as well I can.” I wasn’t going to let him sidetrack me that easily. “So back to that riddle. First rule of problem-solving is …