What I should have learned by now

Posted: Mar 21, 2007 11:01 AM

A fellow's never learned as much as he thinks he has.

He also may have learned the wrong things. And the truly wise are those capable of unlearning some things. Because life is just full of surprises. To quote my favorite philosopher, Fats Waller: "One never knows, do one?"

Among the things I should have learned by now:

Always show good will. If it is not reciprocated, nothing is lost. If it is, much is gained. Contrary to Machiavelli, it is better to be loved than feared, at least in personal relations. Nations are something else; they have interests, not friends.

Eliminate the negative, accentuate the positive, latch on to the affirmative, and don't mess with Mister In-Between.

"When you're sure you're right, forget caution." That's about the wisest thing a publisher ever told this columnist.

It ranks up there with something another publisher once told me: The best editorials appeal to the community's own standards - while trying to raise them. Which is a neat trick, but the only one really worth doing in an editorial.

The real winner of any debate, win or lose, is the one who raises its level.

"Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap out tunes for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars." -Flaubert.

"The best editorials articulate what everyone knows but no one has ever said before." -William Allen White.

"We read to find out what we already know." -V.S. Naipaul. Make the phone call. Silence is the worst response. Except as a last resort or to preserve your peace. Or in response to insults. Let things pass. You might be surprised how some things right themselves if ignored long enough.

Don't worry so much. Heck, don't worry, period. Worrying is an attenuated form of atheism. Do your best and then let Somebody Else handle it.

"Step lightly; do not jar the inner harmonies." -Satchel Paige.

"Nothing can be more useful to a man than a determination not to be hurried." -Henry David Thoreau. New Englander or not, he must have been a Southerner at heart.

Obey the rules. You'll sleep better. Imagine if everyone did.

Don't settle for less than the best. The rest is uneconomical. One of the best buys I ever made was a North Face parka. I thought long and hard before I shelled out the couple of hundred bucks it cost in 1983. But, hey, I was going to Siberia. I splurged. It kept me warm in Irkutsk and Novosibirsk and on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

Also, the hidden pocket came in handy when I left what was then the Soviet Union with a cassette tape that a refusenik asked me to get out. She's in Israel now. Russia, I fear, is still in chains.

That parka is still the most useful garment I own. It has seen me through many a winter since. And a spring or two in colder climes. On cold nights I can sleep in it; it's more comfortable than a bedroll. Even in summer, the thought of it hanging in the back of the closet makes me feel prepared.

Don't turn on the television, except maybe during tornado season. There may be some exceptions to that rule ("Lonesome Dove," "The Forsyte Saga," "Sesame Street"), but in general TV is the greatest time-waster ever invented.

It's not the trash, the inanity, the shout shows, the sex-with-violence that's the worst thing about television. It's the escapism, the unspoken but all-permeating message that your life isn't the one worth watching.

The South will rise again, just not in the way anyone would have expected.

A capacity for surprise is the truest sign of the believer. 'Cause one never knows, do one?

Don't be embarrassed to change your mind. No one should have to live with a bad decision.

Pray. Pray to be shown how to pray. That may be the best prayer. Listen to Mahalia Jackson. You won't be able to without praying. "There are some things I may not know/ there are some places I can't go/ but I am sure of this one thing/ my God is real/ for I can feel/ him in my soul.[unital]

Stop now and then. The world is a conspiracy to keep us running instead of thinking. Or feeling.

Look before you leap, and he who hesitates is lost. Take your choice of those bromides. Or mix and match depending on the occasion.

And, oh yes, beware of old guys weaving maxims.