Legendary words to live by

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 16, 2002

Do you have words to live by? Are there certain tenets on which you rely when you find yourself in tenuous situations?

Most of us have such a storehouse. As babes we began learning axioms for living within our social framework. We all grew up with "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" and

"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." These admonitions were intended to make our world a nicer place in which to live. And they were intended to make us nicer inhabitants.

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But there are situations that call for help of a different kind. I personally cannot always employ the nicer sayings when my penchant for being argumentative is aroused. When that part of me that says "I'm not always right but I'm never wrong" rears its ugly head, I need hard-core help.

I have a tried and true favorite that never fails me. It comes from former president Harry Truman. You students of history will know that Harry was a rather salty character with a colorful vocabulary, so bear with me here. When I feel inclined to get into a verbal altercation that I know I cannot win, I remember his rule, "You can't win a p-ing contest against a skunk." It has served me well over the years when I remember it in time to save myself.

When facing a potentially painful situation with an uncertain outcome, I remember a line from a Lee Marvin film, "The only thing worse than getting the **** kicked out of you is the fear of getting the **** kicked out of you." Thus armed I am able to step into the fire.

And the last bit of wisdom I rely on comes from the film, Little Big Man. After waiting all day on a hilltop for death to take him because he thought it was "a good day to die", an old Indian chief arises and starts back down the mountain towards the encampment. He mutters, "Sometimes the magic works and sometimes it doesn't." That one is really good when your best laid plans turn out to not be the best laid after all.

It probably is not a good sign that I live by smart-mouth lines from film characters and old men. Self-help books are being published by the hundreds, pulpits are filled every Sabbath, and philosophers abound. Still I seek guidance from films and politicians. Come to think of it, I may by this admission be greatly compromising my credibility as a purveyor of free advice.

But these three expressions speak to me and enable me to deal with those sticky situations that come to us all. I have a favorite newspaper cartoonist these days by the name of Aaron McGruder, creator of The Boondocks. He won me over shortly before Christmas when his two main characters, a young man and woman, were discussing gifts. The young man had decided to give everybody "the gift that keeps on giving. The gift of wisdom." His counterpart replied, "That wouldn't be anything like unsolicited advice would it?"

Ouch, that hits me where I live. I need an appropriate axiom that would address this "You didn't ask me, but" syndrome of mine, and I'm sure one exists. I just haven't heard the right speech or seen the right film. If you happen to have one handy, those around me would be most grateful if you would send it my way. But until I'm convinced otherwise, I'll most likely keep on dispensing opinions like daily vitamins. George Orwell once said, "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear." Way to go George, you understand.

Giving advice that is requested is hard. One feels it necessary to weigh every word carefully, to be overly cautious so that the advice does not explode into disaster.

Unsolicited advice, however, comes so much more easily. It flows like a high mountain river during spring thaw. Since you did not ask for the opinions I gave, the responsibility for accepting them is yours. I'm off the hook.

If the opinions prove beneficial, you see how intuitive I am. If the advice is bad, shame on you for listening to someone from whom you would not ask advice in the first place.

Carolyn McGinty is a staff writer for The Greenville Advocate. She can be reached at www.cmcginty@volexpress.com.