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Guest Commentary

It’s not only candidates whose word should be questioned. Consider comments we utter, too.

8/31/2016

Taking people at their word can be risky. That’s why we question what folks running for public office say. But we might also consider some comments we utter on occasion.

For example:

“It won’t matter in 100 years”: (Don’t waste time worrying about likely futile efforts.)

The catch here is that it may indeed matter today or tomorrow. The people you can help or speak up for need your help today, not in 100 years. Grief, sorrow and fleeting opportunity are all immediate matters, not something to dismiss because “It won’t matter in 100 years.”

One acid test: When someone’s child dies, would you offer as consolation: “It won’t matter in 100 years”?

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Besides, it often will matter in 100 years.

Do you ignore Iowa’s water problems and dismiss government’s latest hypocrisy on pollution because: It won’t matter in 100 years?

Wanna bet?

“Everyone deserves a second chance”: (No one should be damned or cursed by one mistake or failure).

The catch here is that while the “haves” in our society are guaranteed second and third or more chances, many in our society never have a first chance, partly because the “haves” don’t think they deserve one. So legislators cut budgets for success stories like Head Start or argue vehemently against minimum wage laws or legislation for medical cannabis apparently for fear of giving desperate folks a first chance. Almost 50 years ago, we spent a year in Lexington, Kentucky — me teaching from an ivory tower at the University of Kentucky and my wife teaching in an elementary school filled with poverty-stricken kids. Her principal’s useless advice was “Wire ’em out.” By that he meant, “wear” out the students with punishment inflicted with a wooden paddle. I thought that for many of the kids in Joan’s class, her care and dedication likely were the best most of them would ever experience. Second chance? Many people today don’t have much of a first chance — including in Iowa families if they need mental health care.

“Everything happens for a reason”: (Some divine force, like TV weather people, guides every little event in the universe.)

No it doesn’t. No master puppeteer pulls the strings on what billions of people do to and for each other. Perhaps what is meant is, “Play the hand you are dealt,” as best you can. And hope that if you need help, folks won’t ignore you because “It won’t matter in 100 years” or won’t work against your having a first or second chance.

“On the other hand”: Some capsule comments make more sense.

Most religions or sound philosophies have versions of the Golden Rule and treating others as you would want your loved ones to be treated. Also we read about not deceiving ourselves: “Know thyself” or “To thine own self be true” or the more informal “Don’t kid yourself.” Even Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” character acknowledged “A man’s got to know his limitations.” If you don’t like Clint, try Jiminy Cricket’s 1940 advice to Pinocchio, “Always let your conscience be your guide.”

Two other lines useful in the broader scope self-governance.

  1. While many are taken with Henry David Thoreau’s line, “That government is best which governs least,” here’s a thought attributed to James Otis and John Warren of the Founding Fathers’ generation.  They said it isn’t a matter of governing “most” or “least” but rather “That government is best which is most just.”
  2. The only truly free person is the one who exercises self-restraint. That appears to be a paraphrase from Edith Hamilton, 1867-1963, who wrote: “Liberty depends on self-restraint.” To behave otherwise is to be solely spontaneous, self-indulgent, egotistical or not mindful of others because — after all — it won’t matter in 100 years.

Wanna bet?■

 

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes occasional columns for Cityview.

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