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BC’s Tales of the Pacific | Words to live by (2)

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SEVERAL readers expressed themselves regarding last week’s column, Words to Live By, in which I highlighted some of the great ideas and people who uttered them. 

While all were intended to make a person think, some achieved that better than others and some proved a little confusing.  In response to your feedback, I will elaborate on a few.

Don’t mistake activity for achievement. — John Wooden

Wooden is the most successful coach in the history of college sports, having coached UCLA to more basketball championships than any other team.  Like Vince Lombardi, he spouted quotable quotes the way Rodney Dangerfield spouted one-liners.  And like Lombardi, his message transcended sports.  In this gem, Wooden reminds us that we can fool ourselves into thinking we are achieving something, when we are merely doing something.  There is a difference.  I once watched a group of people sweep the floor of the MHS gymnasium from left to right.  A half hour later another group came in, picked up the same brooms, and swept the floor again, moving right to left.  When a third group came in later, I urged them to stop, since the floor had already been swept twice.  Undeterred, they told me it is better to keep busy, so they swept it yet again. 

Now do you see the meaning behind Wooden’s message? Of the three groups. Which were active?  All of them.  Which achieved anything?  Only the first.  That is the difference between doing something and achieving something.  

If you're going to be a good and faithful judge, you have to resign yourself to the fact that you're not always going to like the conclusions you reach. If you like them all the time, you're probably doing something wrong. — Antonin Scalia 

Antonin Scalia was the most quotable justice on the United States Supreme Court since Oliver Wendell Holmes.  Whether in the majority or minority, Scalia always made his listeners think.  Like Abraham Lincoln, he had the skill to cut through the smoke screens and distractions of a case and zero in on the central issue. 

He was also an ideologue with a clear, positive worldview.  But what did Scalia mean by saying you will not like all the conclusions reach?  As an example, let’s say you strongly believe in the freedom of expression.  You believe that you should have the right to express your opinion, no matter how popular or unpopular.  Fine, but what if a fascist wanted to express himself?  Would you still argue that he has the right as well?  When many people say they believe in the freedom of expression, they only apply it to people who agree with them.  Not Scalia.  He believed that if he enjoyed that freedom, so did everyone else.  That is how he could reach a conclusion that he may not agree with.  Does he agree with what the fascist says?  No, but he believes he has the right to say it. 

Get the right amount of wisdom from an experience.  A cat will never sit on a hot stove burner again, but will never sit on a cold one either. — Mark Twain

Twain’s primary objective was to make you laugh.  His second was to make you think.  In this case, he succeeded at both, as anyone who has a cat can testify.  Picture the cat sitting on the floor, ambitiously eyeing the stovetop, building up the courage to take that leap.  Once on the stove, the cat realizes it is much too hot to stand on and quickly jumps back off.  His conclusion?  The top of that large black appliance is a danger zone.  Don’t ever go there again.  But that conclusion is not really accurate, is it?  A stovetop is not a dangerous place, a hot stovetop is.  But good luck convincing a cat of the difference. 

The point?  We can draw the wrong conclusions in our lives too.  I know a woman who says she will never marry again because her husband cheated on her.  Did all men cheat on her?  Of course not, but she will never trust any man again.  Stovetop.  I know a man who keeps all his money in cash in a safe at home.  He doesn’t trust banks because once a bank overcharged him for a bounced check.  Did all banks overcharge him?  Of course not, but he will never trust any bank again.  Stovetop.  A know a woman who will never ride horses again because she was thrown once, a man who will never swim again because a fish nibbled at him, a man who loves all French people because a French man was nice to him once.  Stovetops.

I cherish these gems because they make me think; they challenge me to be a better person, to stretch my mind.  I hope they do the same for you.

BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He currently resides on the mainland U.S.

 

 

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