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Dennis the Genius

I re-watched Dennis the Menace the other day. They just don’t make kids movies like that anymore. It’s the John Hughes touch—irreplaceable. Anyway, besides feeling good that a movie from my childhood doesn’t suck today, I was overall very intrigued about what the movie was trying to say (granted, I’m not too familiar with the comic strip so I’m just going off the plotting of the movie here).

Dennis IS a Menace, most notably to his ornery neighbor Mr. Wilson. He constantly pesters him and makes his life a living hell. Babysitters refuse to watch him and he’s known as the ‘crazy’ kid on the block. These things would undoubtedly identify Dennis as a BAD kid—the one getting in trouble, the one teachers push through the year with, the one who will never be respected by others. But after watching the movie and analyzing each and every situation where Dennis is perceived as a ‘menace’ I came to one conclusion. Dennis is a GENIUS.

He totally is. Actually, he’s more like a scientist. He’ll probably cure cancer when he’s older. He’s definitely never getting a B. Dennis is a problem solver. Since he’s only seven, the best way for him to solve a problem is by extermination. Take for example the opening scene. Mr. Wilson pretends he’s asleep, thinking he has the upper hand when Dennis comes stomping in his room. But Dennis—always getting to the root of the problem—knows it’s too late in the morning for Mr. Wilson to sleep in, therefore he must be sick. Well, how do you fix someone who’s sick? You give them drugs, lol. So Dennis gets a bottle of aspirin and attempts to feed it to Mr. Wilson. But he’s still pretending to sleep, so he’s unable to swallow the pill. Well, how do you get a pill down a man’s throat who isn’t awake? Why, shoot it down their throat with a slingshot, of course!

Dennis IS brilliant! I would never think to do something like that, and of course, I would hope you wouldn’t think to use a slingshot to shoot pills down your friend’s throat either, but to Dennis, he’s simply finding the best way to solve a problem. He’s thinking wayyyyyy outside the box. All he wants to do is help. To an adult mind he’s nothing but a nuisance and someone who only cares about himself, but really it couldn’t be further from the truth. Dennis cares about everything and everyone, and is willing to compromise entire situations just so a problem will be solved. What’s that button do over there? Hmm, I’ll never know unless I push it… Whoops, I just knocked over an entire table of cake. It seems evil to those around him, but when we identify with Dennis, we understand he only wants to know the solution. He probably would have tossed and turned all night pondering what that magical black button could do. Like any good scientist or risk-taker in a job, you have to try-try-try and try to get to the end. No one invents something on the first try.  think of WD-40 (40 tries to get it right).

It seems like in our modern world today, a lot of risks have been eliminated. We know a lot of things without having LEARNED them, and we see a lot of things without actually UNDERSTANDING them.  We’re the smartest people on the block, we could probably win Jeopardy, but try getting us to have an actual conversation… with a person… well, we’d probably bolt for the nearest exit and write a clever twitter status about our dilemma. That’s where Dennis succeeds the most. He’s not some sheltered kid coming up with inventions in his basement—he’s literally announcing his arrival with clinking tin cans on the sidewalk. He has no fear of anyone.

There aren’t enough Dennis’s in the world today. I heard a great analogy in church this Sunday of a pendulum on a clock stuck in the middle. That’s our ‘safe zone’ where we can never experience the super lows, but also miss out on the super highs. It’s boring but it’s EASY. It’s good to have the highs AND the lows, the full spectrum.

Dennis could give two craps what others think of him, he’s willing to do anything to solve the task at hand. Oh, you dropped your handcuff key in a pot of beans… well, you’re going to have to eat all the beans to find them because it’s wrong to waste food. Smart and double-smart! When we get older, we probably have a few major things we care about and the rest is sort of white noise. To a seven-year-old, saving the world is just as important as saving the toad from getting squished on the road. Everything is important therefore everything is equal. It’s all a part of life, therefore, it’s precious.

We all have this perception of ourselves of who we are and what we can do. But—and I’m guilty of this too—there’s always an endpoint. “That’s the limit of my potential.” Let’s try to be more like Dennis. Maybe he’s a little rude, and sometimes he can be a pain, but if we went through life tackling every problem that was ever thrown at us, instead of running in the corner hoping a couple Google searches will clear things up, we could wake up each day with a smile on our face, knowing we gave it our all. We tried, we failed, we succeeded, we lived.

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