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Thu, March 21

Column: Humor, perspective go a long way in life

Here is the fourth installment of Granddaddyisms I shared with my teenage grandson a few years back.

"If there is one thing you'll need in life to maintain a balance and a perspective that will enable you to cope with difficult times and loss and tough challenges, it's a sense of humor. Nurture yours, Dylan. Look for the funny, listen to what makes people laugh, pay attention to comedians, read humorous articles and books. Without a sense of humor, life can be a downer and days can be long and tedious and unnecessarily gray. Learn to approach life with a smile, with an expectation that there is a hidden, comedic event or happening around the next corner. Look for humor and it's likely to emerge.

"Almost as important as developing and maintaining a rich sense of humor is the need to nurture a sense of moral outrage. There is so much injustice and evil and suffering in the world that needs attention. Keep a fire in your belly; never become a dispassionate observer; never anesthetize yourself or become a cynic. Care, Dylan, care. Then try to do whatever you can to bring forth justice and fight evil and alleviate suffering. And keep in mind the words of St. Augustine: Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage - anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.

"You've no doubt heard that old saw practice makes perfect, right? Well, it's an okay message, but it's also fiddle-faddle. Some people will tell you that only perfect practice makes perfect. That's a little better, but not much. The reality is, we are flawed individuals, and 'perfect' simply isn't in the cards. None of us is perfect, nor are we going to be. So just try to do your best. Concentrate on what you are doing, give it your best shot and move on. People who think they can be perfect in whatever are in for a whole heap of frustration and disappointment.

"Be very slow to accept the cliché 'Everything happens for the best.' Or this one, 'Everything happens for a reason.' I've never been able to explain these careless conclusions to people who are homeless or to kids who wake up each morning wondering whether they will have any food to eat that day or to parents whose children have been murdered by people with guns, or... well, you get the point. There are way too many unexamined bromides floating around out there.

"Understand, Dylan, that everyone is ignorant, just in different ways. There is so much to learn in so many subjects and so much knowledge accumulated in the world that it's understandable we are ignorant. Most of us know a little bit about a little bit. While we should acknowledge our ignorance, we don't have to be stupid, which means pretending we know more than we do, or not being interested in learning or improving ourselves, or being self-satisfied, or lacking curiosity about the world we live in, or believing our education ends when we leave school. Smart folks know there is always much more to learn so they are dedicated to being lifelong learners. They know they rarely have clear answers to the important questions. They are slow to make up their minds about tough, complex issues.

"Be wary of those folks who try to tell you what is right. Be slow to embrace cocksure individuals. There are too many people who live by the motto, 'My mind is made up; don't bother me with the facts.' Of course, they have a right to their beliefs and the right to live in their encapsulated world. But, too frequently, they feel compelled to try to persuade the rest of us that their truths are what we should accept. These people are usually strangers to critical thinking and to a liberating education which puts emphasis on questions, doubt and curiosity.

"The more complex the world becomes, the more people want simplistic answers. They will also prefer a sheltered existence where they don't have to think about tough questions and difficult matters. These folks often become suckers for hucksters who are happy to do their thinking for them while providing them with simple, rigid instructions on what to think and believe. Be joyful, Dylan, that your life journey has, so far, been lit by the lights of learning, not by the darkness of dogma. You are a lucky young man. I hope you realize that."

Dr. Ron Barnes is a retired educator and businessman.


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