John's World: What I’ve Learned So Far

November 8, 2013 06:16 PM

I have reached the very early autumn of my life, and in keeping with the dignity that has been my trademark attribute, have begun to assemble profound words of wisdom to ensure my place in the hearts and minds of those around me. It turns out many—well, almost all—of these gems of insight were shared by others. It just took my keen mind to separate these deeper truths from useless babble. Read and learn, my friends.

It’s about the money. During a somewhat tense estate settlement discussion in our family, my normally quiet brother-in-law pulled me aside and whispered, "John, when people say ‘It’s not about the money,’ it’s about the money." Once I grasped this confusing observation, the path to a happier conclusion went much easier.

There’s a lot of dirt in a hole.No real deep insight here (ha!) or meaningful metaphor—just the crystallization of decades of surprise at just how much dirt expands when liberated from its compacted natural existence.

It’s the battery. When working on vehicle electrical systems, 99% of the time, the battery is the fault. My father, as he crawled over a old truck with a multimeter, would repeat this phrase quietly from time to time: "Batteries fail in devious ways."Regardless, it always made me more determined to show it couldn’t possibly be the battery.

Turn left. People are pre-wired to turn to the right when searching or choosing a path. It’s something maze creators rely on, as well as theme park operators. If you want to find your way or avoid being stuck in The Herd at every fork, turn left. Seriously.

Some problems can only be outlived. This has been one of the hardest concepts for me to accept—no amount of expertise and effort will resolve some obstacles in your life. However, many will go away in time ... a long, long time. So, take care of yourself if you want to see the successful resolution. This strategy is also why family farms will continue to be the backbone of agriculture—they can devote generations to overcoming difficulties. So, take care of your family, as well.

"One is never so on trial as in the moment of excessive good fortune." This line from Ben Hur by Lew Wallace is a remarkable recognition of an overlooked hazard. People cut you slack when your road is rocky, and then respect those who handle it with grace. But the wildly lucky inspire envy, not empathy, and invite scrutiny after their change of circumstance. While we brood endlessly over what to do when things turn south, perhaps preparing our game plan for a win might prevent revealing our worst instincts. 

Make the right answer the easy answer. When trying to encour­age correct behavior, make it easier to get the "correct" answer by paving the way. Use "opt out" choices for savings plans, for example. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope, make sure ear protection is at hand around noisy machinery, leave the web page with your desired Christmas present on the computer for your spouse to "accidentally" discover, mow your roadsides in early fall so truckers can actually see your barely-big-enough field entrances.

Listen closely. Finally, one good habit to develop is to recognize timeless wisdom can come from the most unlikely mouths, so listen carefully. I learned this lesson not long ago from my 4-year-old granddaughter Elsie. While visiting her suburban home, we went to a nearby park to play one spring morning. She chatted with me cheerily, pointing out features of the park and the current rankings of her preschool friends.

We were playing on the slide—one of those modern fiberglass corkscrew tubes that identify upscale child amusement. I waited in catcher mode at the exit. Halfway down, I heard the sliding noise shift into tumbling and, to my alarm, she rolled head-over-heels out the bottom of the slide. Before I could pick her up she bounced to her feet and began furiously straightening her little dress and pushing back hair from her face.

"Are you OK, honey?" I asked anxiously, fearing that my child-minding privileges were in jeopardy. "Oh, yeah," she said, still smoothing her clothes, and then she turned to look me straight in the eye. Mimicking her remarkable mother’s exact tone and words, she instructed me gently but firmly, "Remember, grandpa. Nobody wants to see your underpants."

Oh sure, now you tell me.

John Phipps writes from Chrisman, Ill. Contact John:




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