In Which I Explain Why Pirates With Good Manners are Actually an Important Life Lesson

Probably the most frequent question I asked as a kid was “why.”

Why is the sky blue?

Why is it raining today?

Why is grass green?

Why are birds different colors? (Listen. I was exhausting.)

I’m sure my mom loved it (jk, sorry mom). Regardless, the most boring answer I could be given when I asked “why” was the most common answer given by most people who don’t feel like answering a barrage of questions from a four year-old: “Because.”

Granted, I’m well aware that most parents of small children are too exhausted to even eat three square meals a day, much less delve into life’s deep questions with a tiny person who doesn’t even know all the words yet. Still, I cannot believe the answer to “why” is as simple as, “because, that’s the way things are,” or “because, that’s what I told you to do (I’m sure this one has more caveats than most, but bear with me).” “Because” is not a sentence; there’s always a deeper reason for why we ought to act a certain way, even if we’re not mentally present enough to dig it up and present it to a questioning kindergartener. Children—honestly everyone, I believe—need a deeper reason for why they ought to act a certain way.

The concept of the book I’ve written is fairly simple on the surface: my two characters, Appropriate Pirate and Inappropriate Pirate, are opposites. Appropriate Pirate has good manners, and his antithesis, Inappropriate Pirate, has bad manners. Throughout the book, Inappropriate Pirate is painted as rude and selfish and unpleasant, yes, but also prideful, and his distancing of himself from the rest of his crew plays as the setup for his downfall. Inappropriate Pirate’s greatest sin is ultimately not being mean, having bad manners or leaving his elbows on the table at meals, but repeatedly choosing actions that actively cut himself off from his shipmates.

Now let me do some uncomfortable work in being vulnerable for a minute: I’m very familiar with this character flaw. I’ve lived much of my life as an introvert who uses her introversion as an excuse to separate from people. I’m fiercely independent, and the thought of asking for help or accepting offered help from someone else makes me  r e a l  uncomfortable. It was never anything personal to anyone when I would politely refuse their helping hand—it’s just that I’d spent so much of my life listening to the wrong voice. It was the voice of pride that patted me on the back, told me I could do almost anything by myself, and, perhaps an even more sinister lie, told me I should be able to do it by myself. After all, if I can’t do it myself, then I’m not capable, not respectable, not useful, and certainly not desirable in a world that moves at such a breakneck pace.

I’m very grateful that this sense of pride has been in the process of shattering over the course of the last several years. Not entirely by choice, I should note—it turns out asking for help becomes a much more palatable option than pride when you’ve been fired with vague reason from your job, have no direction, and the co-workers you thought were friends have suddenly stopped communicating with you. Pride tends to shatter when you’ve got $1.78 in your bank account and rent is due in two days. But while I always thought being humbled from my pride would come as a humiliating experience, it actually turned out to be very gentle and liberating. Love is what brings us back into community, and fortunately for us all, Love is not in the business of humiliation.

The lesson to be learned in this book is that community is a lifeline for humanity—we can’t live without it. We are all connected, and our actions have a lasting effect on one another. If we allow ourselves to listen to the sense of pride that whispers to us, “I can do this myself, I don’t need people, therefore I can treat people however I want,” it isn’t long before we start to lose feeling, to grow numb, and to ultimately cut ourselves off from the very people we need to survive.

I’ve mentioned before that children’s books had a great impact on me when I was growing up. I think that’s something uniquely special about taking in good stories as a child—they stick with you in ways that a good deal of other lessons and ideas do not. The idea that I could help someone at a very early stage in life understand a concept that took me years to fully come to terms with, all wrapped in a cute story about pirates, is something that excites me and makes this a project worth completing.
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