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Things I Should Have Learned

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

I made this list, Dear Reader, to remind me of some things I keep forgetting. It occurred to me that others might forget them on occasion, too. So here they are, with my compliments:


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.

A man's never learned as much as he thinks he has. He also may have learned the wrong things. The truly wise are those capable of telling the difference, and maybe even unlearning some things.

Life is just full of surprises. To quote my favorite philosopher, Fats Waller: "One never knows, do one?"

Always show good will. If it is not reciprocated, nothing is lost. If it is, celebrate. 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.

"Life is a narrow bridge. The most important thing is not to be afraid." -Reb Nachman of Breslov, who also said: "If you believe you can damage, then believe you can repair." Instead of contemplating our sins, why not make up for them? It can be done. That's what We the Guilt-Ridden forget. Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" starring E. Scrooge should be read the year 'round.

Here's another gem from Reb Nachman: "Seek for the merit in others, even the tiniest shred. Then do the same in yourself."

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

I've regularly been taught what writing opinion ought to be about. But as Dr. Johnson said, we need to be reminded more than taught. I just need to remember what I've learned. Such as:


"When you're sure you're right, forget caution." That's about the wisest thing a publisher ever told me. It ranks up there with something another wise publisher once told me: "The best editorials appeal to the community's own standards - while raising 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.

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

Make the phone call. Silence is the worst response. Except in response to insults. Let things pass. You might be surprised how they right themselves if ignored long enough. Time may not heal but it certainly softens.

"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. One of the best buys I ever made was a North Face parka. I thought long and hard before I shelled out the couple hundred bucks it cost in 1983. But, hey, I was going to Siberia. I splurged. It kept me warm in Irkutsk and Novosobirsk and on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. And it's seen me through many a winter since. Also, the hidden pocket came in handy when I left what was then the Soviet Union with a casette tape that a refusenik asked me to get out. She's in Israel now. Russia is slipping back into chains.


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 may be 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. Savor the written word instead, or the spoken one in real, human conversation. Yes, don't settle for less than the best.

The South will rise again, just not in the way we expected.

A capacity for surprise is the truest sign of the believer.

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

Stop. 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. Or mix and match depending on the occasion.

And, oh yes, beware of old guys handing out maxims.


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