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MomsHow to Spell Cat The Ability to Discern
By Kenn Paul Gividen

"There are two way to spell 'cat,'" my sister advised. "The first is CAT or," her eyes brightened, "you can spell it KAT."

My classmate was the family dog; the teacher was my seven-year-old sister. It was one of my earliest memories. How grateful I was to have an older sibling who cared enough to be my teacher.

Then came first grade.

Somewhere on the first floor of a two-story brick building at the corner of Ritter Avenue and Washington Street in Indianapolis was five year old Kenny Paul Gividen. The teacher would read the spelling words; my classmates and I would neatly scrawl each one on light blue lines.

You can imagine the thrill that surged through my soul as the teacher announced the spelling word, "cat." It was my chance to shine. I would reveal to my teacher that I excelled the others in knowledge and understanding. Alas, I knew BOTH ways to spell cat.

The lesson learned has remained with me all my life. It came in the form of a big red X next to my alternate spelling, "kat."

Those lessons were infinitely more valuable than merely how to spell "cat."

I learned there are two kinds of teachers: There are those who teach and those who play school.

Over the decades I have encountered many advisors. Those who are teachers are a rare and valuable find. Those who "play school" are many and can cause much damage.

The challenge is to acquire the ability to distinguish the real advisors from the ones who are not. Too often I fail to make the distinction. And too often like the spelling quiz in the big brick building I discover my error all too late.

But here are some basic guidelines:

Is the teacher taught? The real teacher invested four years of college. My sister had learned to ride a bike, tie her shoe and tell time. Advisors who are not, themselves, students should be avoided.

Are they condescending? Advisors who are playing school tend to be more interested in being the teacher than in teaching. The focus is on themselves.

Is the lesson needed? Great advisors dispense their insights only when needed; when there is something to lose or gain.

What is the context of the advice? If your classroom is the backyard and your classmate is a dog, you are not at school. Though any physical environment is an opportunity for learning, the context of the advice given may be out of place.

The great challenge is to evaluate the advisor and the advice prior to making application. That is a skill I have never learned. I listen to almost anyone. Why? Because there is safety in a multitude of counselors. To reject some advice is akin to pulling the proverbial wheat along with tares. Listen, and then evaluate the advice. If it fails to meet the above criteria, reject it.

And that's my advice.
Kenn Gividen is the author of The Prayer of Hannah. A father of two grown children, he and his wife, Donna, are the proud grandparents of three children. He owns a direct marketing firm in Columbus, Indiana. You can write to Kenn care of the Letters page of this Magazine.