Fact Check

Paul Harvey -- These Things I Wish for You

Is Paul Harvey the source of the essay 'These Things I Wish for You'?

Published Aug. 23, 2001


Claim:   Paul Harvey essay provides a list of things he wished for his listeners.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, August 2001]

Here is a pretty neat little thing from Paul Harvey.

We tried so hard to make things better for our kids that we made them worse.

For my grandchildren, I’d know better.

I’d really like for them to know about hand-me-down clothes and home-made ice cream and leftover meatloaf. I really would.

My cherished grandson, I hope you learn humility by surviving failure and that you learn to be honest even when no one is looking.

I hope you learn to make your bed and mow the lawn and wash the car — and I hope nobody gives you a brand-new car when you are sixteen.

It will be good if at least one time you can see a baby calf born, and you have a good friend to be with you if you ever have to put your old dog to sleep.

I hope you get a black eye fighting for something you believe in.

I hope you have to share a bedroom with your younger brother. And it is all right to draw a line down the middle of the room, but when he wants to crawl under the covers with you because he’s scared, I hope you’ll let him.

And when you want to see a Disney movie and your kid brother wants to tag along, I hope you take him.

I hope you have to walk uphill with your friends and that you live in a town where you can do it safely.

If you want a slingshot, I hope your father teaches you how to make one instead of buying one. I hope you learn to dig in the dirt and read books, and when you learn to use computers, you also learn how to add and subtract in your head.

I hope you get razzed by friends when you have your first crush on a girl, and that when you talk back to your mother you learn what Ivory soap tastes like.

May you skin your knee climbing a mountain, burn your hand on the stove and stick your tongue on a frozen flagpole.

I hope you get sick when someone blows smoke in your face. I don’t care if you try beer once, but I hope you won’t like it. And if a friend offers you a joint or any drugs, I hope you are smart enough to realize that person is not your friend.

I sure hope you make time to sit on a porch with your grandpa or go fishing with your uncle.

I hope your mother punishes you when you throw a baseball through a neighbor’s window, and that she hugs you and kisses you when you give her a plaster of paris mold of your hand.

These things I wish for you — tough times and disappointment, hard work and happiness.

Origins:   The essay reproduced above has circulated on the Internet for several years prefaced with a statement indicating it is "from Paul Harvey," an attribution which is somewhat ambiguous — does it mean that the late radio commentator

wrote the essay, or that he popularized it? It's unclear which concept the original e-mailer was trying to communicate, so we'll answer both questions in preference to guessing what was in that person's mind.

Paul Harvey didn't write this essay. The true author of the piece is Lee Pitts, and the nostalgic composition was published (under the title "These Things I Wish") in his 1995 book People Who Live at the End of Dirt Roads and appeared in the 2000 Chicken Soup for the Golden Soul collection.

However, Paul Harvey used material written by Lee Pitts in his daily news and commentary radio segments from time to time, and he did read this particular essay (crediting Pitts, of course) during his 6 September 1997 broadcast. The popularization of "These Things I Wish" by Paul Harvey led to its publication as an illustrated book of its own in 2006:

When Paul Harvey read Lee Pitts's essay "These Things I Wish" on his nationally syndicated radio show, Paul Harvey News and Comment, listeners everywhere loved it, and it's become a classic that's been passed from parent to child, from friend to friend. Here, for the first time, Pitts's moving text is presented opposite beautiful illustrations in a book that is the perfect gift for parents and children of all ages.

Many of the forwarded versions of Pitts' piece end with the following tacked-on riddle (also falsely attributed to Paul Harvey):

When asked this riddle, 80% of kindergarten kids got the answer, compared to 17% of Stanford University seniors.

What is greater than God, More evil than the devil, The poor have it, The rich need it, And if you eat it, you'll die?

Send this to 10 people and then press shift and you will get the answer.

P.S. You won't believe this, but this really does give you the answer!!!!

The claims regarding "80% of kindergarten kids" and "17% of Stanford University seniors" are inserted merely to dress out the leg pull — no one went about testing the riddle on either of those two groups, let alone comparing one set of results against the other. Yet although the statistic is made up, it does have some underlying truth: Small children often have a much easier time working out such riddles, ones which require a literal approach to language, than adults do. As with most riddles, the answer to this one is mind-numbingly simple, yet many adults will not think of it because they recognize
words to have myriads of meanings rather than one literal definition apiece, a linguistic awareness that is not fully developed in younger children.

The answer is "Nothing." As in nothing is greater than God, nothing is more evil than the devil, the rich need nothing, the poor have nothing, and if you eat nothing, you will die. So yes, if you do forward the riddle to ten people, you will get the answer because (and we groan as we say this) nothing will happen.

Last updated:   23 January 2010


    Pitts, Lee.   People Who Live at the End of Dirt Roads.

    Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith, 1995.   ISBN 0-879-05673-8.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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