Ah, Goofus and Gallant. I read about your adventures and misadventures religiously in Highlights. That magazine was inescapable in my neck of the woods growing up (literal, I grew up in the actual woods of Maine), a constant fixture of every waiting room.
There are basically two responses to the invocation of Goofus and Gallant:
One is “What? What the heck is that?” (If this is you, feel free to reference the Wikipedia entry for this old timey cultural juggernaut.)
The second reaction — the one that I have as do most of my friends — is becoming overwhelmed with a wave of nostalgia.
Basically, Goofus and Gallant were the two main characters of a recurring comic in Highlights. In keeping with his name, Gallant was a good boy. He always did the right thing.
Goofus, conversely, was a naughty little git. Out for himself. A bit of a mad lad at times, if you will.
These comic strips were really moral instruction. It was as basic as that. Gallant was provided as the Avatar of Do. And Goofus was the Avatar of Don’t.
And yet… and yet… I remember being quite taken with Goofus as a little girl. “Let’s see what he gets up to in this installment,” I’d think, before laughing vicariously at his coarse behavior.
Yes, Goofus was selfish. Yes, he could be kind of rude. But he was colorful, bold.
And most of all, he was really damn relatable. I remember even then feeling a flush of shame as I noted that Gallant and I had little in common. I was a wild, fun kid. But self-control? Responsibility? Well, those were things I had to learn when I was older.
And when I was really little, the age at which I read Highlights voraciously, inevitably stranded somewhere waiting for one of my many siblings’ appointments, I was so much more Goofus than Gallant.
It was only when I was much older did I realize the comic’s intended purpose. And instead of moral edification and instruction, I instead learned a little something important about self-compassion from that weird comic.
Because Goofus was naughty as heck, and yes, Gallant was supposed to be the true hero of the work, but Goofus was in the darn comic. People were reading about him. He was important, too.
Which meant you could be imperfect and yet important.