We live in uneasy times. Our media are controversial, our heroes tainted, our leaders besmirched, our religions tarnished, and our sciences doubted. So, where can we turn for guidance?
I first thought our popular slogans might help, but, except for a few oldies that still raise a smile (Levy’s Rye Bread: You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s; Smuckers: With a name like “Smuckers,” it has to be good), I couldn’t get past the flip egotism of most, summed up smugly in Nike’s Just do it! (How about Nancy Reagan’s Just say no!)
The slogans did, however, remind me of their more sober, older cousins, the ageless maxims that offer to guide us along life’s difficult path.
I studied various sources, hoping to find wisdom that would help, but it wasn’t as easy as I had hoped.
The first hurdle was the apparent mutual contradiction of some maxims, like Might makes right vs. The meek shall inherit the earth (GIVE ME YOUR WALLET OR I’LL SHOOT YOU! … pretty please?!!)
Then, there were the mildly feather-headed, like: A soft answer turneth away wrath (have you ever tried reasoning with a drunken bully?) …
The ambiguous: A little learning is a dangerous thing (well, maybe, if you give a toddler a chemistry set) …
The out-of-date: Don’t take any wooden nickels (wood I know, but what’s a nickel?) …
The cringe-makingly out-of-date: A woman’s place is in the home (yes, and a fool and his testicles are soon parted) …
The puzzlingly illogical: Cold hands, warm heart (has anyone with cold hands ever been anything but a miserable whiner?) …
And the merely stupid (that, inexplicably, seem to focus on horses), like: Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth (DO! If it’s sick or old, you’ll be saddled with medical bills that would make open-heart-surgery look cheap) and Don’t close the barn door after the horse has fled (if there are other horses in the barn, CLOSE IT IMMEDIATELY, for ’Tis better to lose one horse’s ass than to be one).
There were some that made sense, but the task of making a consistent To Do life-list on my own was daunting. I decided to consult trusted sources that had already done comprehensive evaluations (a sort of Consumers’ Report Approved Aphorisms List). The results were not encouraging. A few examples from a multitude:
The Grass is Always Greener on the Other side of the Fence: There are two sides of every fence. If one is greener, the other must be less-green. Therefore, The grass is greener on the other side of the fence half the time.
A Barking Dog Never Bites: It may be impossible for a dog to both bark and bite at the same time, but, once he’s done with that, he can, and may, bite and certainly more frequently than a dog that doesn’t bark, especially one that wags its tail and rolls over.
He Who Fights and Runs Away Lives to Fight Another Day: Perhaps sometimes, but certainly not regularly. He who runs away is probably losing. The chance that he can outrun his presumably-less-battered opponent is close to nil, and then his punishment will be much worse. Perhaps, He Who Fights Deserves the Beating He Gets.
Flattery Will Get You Nowhere: Utter nonsense. It will get you everywhere. And it doesn’t even have to be plausible. Just ask any politician who has ever been elected to any public office.
It Takes a Thief to Catch a Thief: Whether this is true or not is irrelevant. It’s simply bad policing policy, especially if it means relying on another thief to catch that thief, and then another to catch the second thief, ad infinitum.
With that, I gave up my search for a personalized handbook of what to do. Instead, every day, in the paper, I read the police blotter, the pleas for help in the personal advice columns, and the news from Washington. I systematically do not do whatever has been reported. I never would have guessed that being so negative could be so positive.