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Learning lessons makes life better

Monday, December 22, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:59 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I fooled my friends a couple of weeks ago. A young relative volunteered to rearrange my home office so that I would have more writing space. My friends, of course, were taking bets that I couldn’t leave home and let the young woman “do her thing.” They insisted that I would interfere and start giving orders about where I wanted things placed. Actually, I went into the kitchen, sat down and had a cup of coffee while she ordered her crew to start rearranging desks and bookcases. Later, I calmly disappeared into the bathroom, took a bath, got dressed and left for an appointment.

When I returned, I marveled over the transformation a lot like they do on those television room-makeover shows. She did a beautiful job, and I had not one thing to complain about. Was I hit by a bolt of lightning or run down by an 18-wheeler?

No, nothing spectacular happened. It’s just that over time most of us learn a few things. What my friends didn’t know was that one of the things I learned a long time ago is that when you can’t do something yourself, you need to let other people do it their own way, even if they drive you crazy while they’re doing it. That’s why you leave home while it’s going on. The truth is my work space needed rearranging, and I didn’t have time to do it. I needed help.

The only thing that happened in the process was that I remembered when my mother’s lawn needed mowing and she had eye surgery and was unable to mow. My nephew was determined to do it for her. Unfortunately, my nephew did most things while drinking a can of beer. My mother was furious. She ranted and raged the entire time he was cutting the lawn. When he finished, I calmly asked her if he got the job done. She agreed that, in spite of the beer, he had done a pretty good job, and the subject was closed. That afternoon, I learned a valuable lesson. If you want things done your way, you have to do them yourself. Otherwise, sit down and be quiet.

That was just one small lesson that has remained with me for a lifetime. The really big one that I have to pull out and dust off most frequently that I learned from my mother was the need to stand up for what one believes in. During the Civil Rights Movement, I remember my mother pointing out to me that the only reason why my opponents had not tied a rock to my ankles and dumped me in the river was because we didn’t live near a river. She never discouraged me though because she had taught me the importance of choosing sides when a principle was involved.

I bring this up because every time I speak out against the two-party system, I get a hate letter or two. One I got the other day suggested that since I hate America and its political system, I should move to Africa. It’s amazing how little political debate changes over the years when race is involved. When my opponents start suggesting that I move to Norway or Sweden, I will be happy that we have at least crossed that bar.

I think the absence of civics in many schools accounts for the fact that when people feel threatened by nontraditional political ideas, they feel a sense of inadequacy that causes them to resort to age-old prejudices and long-held grievances in an attempt to defend their beliefs. The two-party system has the power and the money to last probably until the end of time. Nevertheless, I reserve the right to criticize it until it becomes illegal to do so, at which time I will refrain.

Something I’ve also learned in the course of living is that an individual can make too many enemies. That’s why I have always been willing to lose an argument to win a friend when a principle is not involved. I’ve known too many people who have wound up elderly, sick and alone in the world because they chose to win at all costs. When there was an opportunity for compromise, they chose to cut off their nose to spite their face. I’m delighted when I’m accused of seeing the opposite side of the argument. Many of my friends are staunch Republicans or staunch Democrats, and I am just as staunch in my beliefs that we need a multi-party system. Does that mean we have to resort to name-calling, racial slurs and attack each other’s patriotism? I don’t think so.

Over the more than 200 years of our nationhood, I think there have been enough examples of good and bad governance for people to have a healthy and productive exchange of ideas, and the problem is very little of those kind of intelligent discussions take place.

While we’re on the subject, one of the big lessons life has to teach us all is that there is a time and place for everything. It’s time now to pause and say, may you and yours have a peaceful and joyous Christmas.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen

by calling at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at nolen@iland.net.


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