Doug Taylor and Rabbi Morton Moskowitz

"So what's wrong with playing hookey? We all need a break now and then, don't we?"
I paused to stab an oversize bite of the bagel, lox, and cream cheese floating on my plate amid a sea of shredded lettuce. I was having lunch with my friend, the King of Rational Thought, at a local restaurant. We were talking about responsibility.
"There's nothing wrong with taking a break," he said. "But you have to be sure of your motivation."
Before he could continue, a newscast from the television in the nearby bar grabbed our attention. The announcer was talking about the President's latest overseas trip. He would be gone for three weeks and planned to visit six countries. Foreign dignitaries were lining up their red carpets.
The King of Rational Thought looked at me thoughtfully and said, "Now there's a case in point."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"When a child has a certain responsibility, and he doesn't want to do it, what does he do?"
"He just doesn't do it," I said.
"That's one possibility," he said. "The other possibility is that he feels guilty, so he covers up his guilt by doing something else. Take school, for instance. For some kids, school is hard. Rather than work through it, as they know they should, some kids drop out and then cover their guilt by getting a job to make some quick money. True?"
"True," I replied. "But so what?"
"Now tell me," he said, "Was the President elected on a platform of solving domestic problems?"
"And has he done it?"
"Not in my opinion."
"So if that's true, why is he spending so much time on foreign matters?"
He paused, then went on. "It's simple. Solving domestic problems is hard, like school. And it's virtually guaranteed to make one or more constituency groups mad. So it's easier for presidents - and this one is by no means the first - to travel and focus on foreign matters where they can look successful, just like the school dropout who makes a few bucks at his new job."
I pondered all this while skewering another gargantuan piece of the freshly baked bagel. "But we all do that sort of thing," I said. "Apart from the obvious - kids drop out of school and presidents don't solve domestic problems - what difference does it make?"
"Let's look at how this emotion, this playing hookey, affects your thinking process," said the King of Rational Thought as he rested his fork on his plate. "Consider this. When you look at something, there's usually an essential part and an unessential part. Take a car, for example. The essential part of the car is that it gets you from one place to another. But most people don't buy cars for that reason. They buy them for the image they project. So they lift a non-essential thing - the image - to the level of an essential.
"That's the same thing presidents do with foreign policy and school dropouts do around getting jobs," he said. "Each one is training his mind to lift the non-essential to the level of the essential.
"That," he concluded, "destroys your ability to think."
I laid my fork down and said, "So that's what you meant about being sure of your motivation when you take a break."
"Right," he said. "Just look at the implications of the word 'hookey.' It doesn't mean taking an appropriate, well-earned break. It means skipping out on doing what you should be doing."
I was silent for a long time.
Finally, I asked quietly, "If this kind of behavior is practiced by everyone from school kids to presidents, what does that say about our collective ability as a society to think clearly and solve problems?"
"I think you know the answer to that," he said.
I did. I just didn't like it.