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"Word to the Wise"

Philip G. Roets wrote a twice-weekly newspaper columns for the Oskaloosa Herald, Oskaloosa, Iowa, 1982-1994. Full collection is 1300+ columns.

Sample columns: General Interest
Word to the Wise: Selected Newspaper Columns

How Old Are You?
Most people seem to think being young is some sort of idyllic age and growing old is some sort of curse to be avoided. The fact is you are young as long as you are planning for tomorrow. You are over the hill as soon as you stop planning for tomorrow and try to live on your yesterdays.

Planning for tomorrow means you realize you still have work to do. Your bones may creak a bit as you bend them. Your muscles may need a third or fourth command before they really get into action. But your mind can be far more alert and active at 75 than it was at 35. Your experience is vast. You know what won’t work and save yourself a lot of wasted steps. Your body may be bent with age but your mind, your imagination, your memory can be functioning in their prime. When someone asks your age, tell him you are young enough to have a lifetime of plans yet to be fulfilled, an unending supply of tomorrows still to be lived.

Cheerful people make others feel better just by their presence. After they leave everyone finds something good in the day or the world. Gloomy people seem to drape a blanket of misery over everything they touch. Work becomes a chore. Success turns sour. All attention is focused on failure.

Being cheerful is sometimes easy and sometimes difficult. When everything is succeeding, cheerfulness is easy. When nothing seems to go right, cheerfulness is a marvelous gift, but it is a bit harder to muster.

One infallible guide to cheerfulness is to make sure that each day is started anew. Don't carry the gloom or sadness of yesterday beyond that day. Close the day when you close your eyes. Open your eyes on a new world filled with opportunities for you to reach out and take. Be able to laugh with others at your problems and then solve them as best you can.

Forgiveness Will Restore the Right Order.
At times, people hurt you. Sometimes this hurting is deliberate. At other times, it is accidental. Mistakes can be made and recognized. Forgive the repentant person.

The offender is sorry. Wipe away the injury or the insult without further question. Make the forgiveness honest, not just words. Make the forgiveness open-not belittling or demeaning. Make the forgiveness sincere, not something you will take back when you remember the incident at a later date.

Do not make the offender come crawling to you. Do not gloat over the embarrassment the offender feels. Do not carry a grudge or become bitter.

You cannot afford the harm that comes to you from all these negative feelings. Forgiveness must restore the right order: Peace and friendliness and cooperation among all the parties.

The Value of Zero.
If I put a “0” on the page it means nothing. Now I put “000.000,000.” I still have a lot of nothing emphasized over and over. Now I put a one in front of all those zeroes “1,000.000.000.” What happened to my “nothing?” It has now become the enormous quantity of one billion.

The zeroes of daily life are all the little, insignificant actions. They seem to mean nothing. A pleasant “Good Morning.” holding a door open for someone, picking up a dropped book: go through the day and count the times you can do a tiny act of kindness or consideration for another. Of themselves they have the value of a whole row of zeroes. How can you turn them into something really significant? What is the magic symbol that will change nothing into more than a million dollars?

The magic symbols are the words Love and Kindness. Do all these things as little actions of loving kindness and they all string together into a value that makes life worthwhile. Love and kindness change daily actions into a great life just as “1” and “$” change the 9 zeroes into a billion dollars.

Gossip: Hidden Cancer of Society!
Cancer is described as abnormal, malignant, invasive, and spreads rapidly. In all these ways, gossip can be called a cancer in human society. Gossip is the peddling of lies or half-truths from one person to another. It can also be revealing truths that should not be uncovered or at least not to these people.

Like cancer, gossip lurks in the shadows and is not recognized until the damage is already severe. Gossipers fall into two general categories: idle or vicious. Idle gossipers are people with empty, profitless lives. Gossip for them is an attractive but harmful diversion in a dull, listless life. Vicious gossipers are people filled with jealousy and hatred. Their shriveled personalities cut people down to make themselves appear big.

Gossip destroys peace, harmony, friendship, love and even life itself. Anyone can become a victim. Even worse, anyone can become a gossiper.

Gratitude: A Sign of Maturity.
Gratitude expresses pleased recognition of the kindness of other people. Prompt gratitude is the act of a mature person. Every child must be taught to say “thank you” as soon as he can form the words. A grateful person is sensitive to the feelings of others. Behind every hand that extends a gift is the heart that prompts it. The gift extended is but the expression of the gift of self. Saying thanks to another is acceptance of this gift of self.

Gratitude is personal, alive and deliberate. As the gift is the expression of the gift of self, so gratitude must return of the gift of self. Gratitude must not come second-hand. The grateful person has to speak for himself.

A person who says “I forgot” or “I was too busy to say thanks” is the nadir of all selfishness and ingratitude. He has earned the right of a "one-way flight into outer space.”

The Faces of Silence!
Silence has many faces. Sometimes it is a dreaded curse. At other times silence is a desired goal. This diversity is due to the uses made of it. Silence can be creative, recuperative, wasteful, or destructive.

Creative silence is the time to assess the objectives of the day or the goals of life. It is the time to read and evaluate ideas of other people. It is time for self-appraisal and self-enjoyment of what has already been done. Creative silence is also a time to recuperate and regenerate personal power.

Wasteful silence is the vacuum caused by a person who is so lazy that the mind stagnates. Destructive silence is the negative force of anger, resentment, and revenge. Such silence is like the smoldering, hidden threat of volcanic destruction.

Silence is golden if it is the laboratory for new strength, new ideas, renewed ambition and deep joy. Read the faces of your silence carefully.

Deliberate Blindness Destroys.
Bias and prejudice are deliberate blindness. This blindness is a habit of faulty or wrong judgments about observable facts. The origin of this blindness is usually found in one’s environment and background.

The originators of this bias or prejudice felt threatened by certain people or customs. They compensated by disparaging or belittling remarks. These remarks were spread and developed by continuous gossip. The original occasion for animosity may have disappeared but the deep-rooted prejudice continued to grow and spread. The new carriers may not even have realized they were being infected. Yet the bias or prejudice colored the judgments and entered their words and actions.

The cure for this blindness of prejudice is simple but demanding. First, admit the warped attitude. Then be convinced of the harm that follows prejudiced conclusions. Sincerely accept the value of each person. Look at and judge only personally known facts. And -- above all -- shun gossip.

Depression: An End or A Beginning?
Depression and despondency come into everyone's life. What should be done? Is the sense of depression the end of all hope or the seedbed of new life? The answer on paper is much easier than in real life.

A depression is like the planting of a seed in spring. A person could feel sorry for the seed. Sealing the seed in a dark hole could be called cruel and destructive. Yet, unless the seed is in the hole, it remains alone, non-productive and wasted.

The time of depression can be a seedbed for growth and healing. The intensity of the suffering generates new ideas, powers and drives. The sense of near-failures and near-despair seem to be a necessary catalyst for new creativity. Unless the time of depression is understood and used in this sense, it easily becomes a morass of self-pity rather than a wellspring of creativity.

What Makes a Friend?
A friend is understanding. Your strengths and weaknesses are recognized. You are seen with your good days and your bad. Your faults can be irksome but your good qualities are welcomed. A friend understands and accepts you as you are without trying to remake you.

A friend is sympathy and courage. Even though the source of sorrow and grief may be small, the friend sympathizes for what the sadness means to you. Your fears are seen as real and the encouragement is geared to controlling and conquering them.

A friend is advice, instruction, guidance. The friend does not talk down to you or snub you. A friend's expertise is offered to answer your problems or even to prevent their rising. A friend's advice is advice. It may be accepted, neglected, or refused. The choice is yours.

To a friend, your successes are no threat but a source of joy and pleasure. A friend is a sense of humor to lighten life’s conflicts. A friend is criticism, open, honest, constructive. Such a friend is a friend indeed.

Fear Protects; Fear Destroys!
Fear is an emotion that halts or, at least, slows down activity. Fear can be protective in that it breeds caution and care before acting. Fear can be debilitating and destructive in that it blocks out the very thought of action, even the actions required for daily living.

Fear that begets caution is accompanied by courage. This courageous fear is the beginning of wisdom. It is based on a healthy self-confidence that carefully weighs strengths and weaknesses in self and others. This protective fear makes daily living challenging, strengthening, and pleasant.

Debilitating, destructive fear quickly becomes anxiety. Doubt, suspicion, irresolution spring up. Hesitation, vacillation, uncertainty stamp each action. The victim is ready to push the panic button on the least provocation.

Courageous fear is the mark of a wise, prudent, energetic and effective person. Debilitating fear is self-destructive and leads to disappointment, sadness and failure.

Your Feelings Are Important!
Feelings are part of your physical inheritance. You are born with them. They serve as the foundation of personality. Feelings can be the source of success or failure. No matter how they are used, the credit or blame belongs to the possessor. A child may inherit a tendency to a fiery temper, a sense of deep depression, or lazy habits, but what is done with the tendency is the child's sole responsibility.

Feelings are important. Without feelings a person would be a drab, listless bump, contributing nothing, achieving nothing. Sensitivity to one's own feelings and the feelings of others are essential to a well-balanced life. Self-observation and the observation of others are needed to recognize the feelings present in self and others.

By sincere control of one's own feelings and deep sensitivity to the feelings of others, true justice and peace can be established in society.

Don’t Kill Your Dreams!
Some people have a penchant to be “killers of dreams.” They can take the brightest goal and find some dour aspect, however minute. Such people are negative thinkers.

Negative thinkers are always off balance. It doesn’t take much of a shove to topple them to the ground. Their thoughts sound something like this: “I know I’ll lose. I’m not sure. The little guy never has a chance. I’ll look stupid. I’m unattractive. They might get angry at me. I don’t like to confront anyone. I’m afraid I’ll hurt their feelings. I’ll lose my job.” On and on goes the litany until fear erases courage, anxiety dissolves ambition and failure meets all goals.

Negative thinkers must establish a confident self-image. They must learn to be courteous but not grovel. They must be understanding and considerate but not become victims. They must be willing to forgive failures in others, but not become pawns. They must convert dreams into success.

Habits: Building Blocks of Character.
Habits acquired through repeated actions are like a cable, woven a thread at a time. The strength of the cable unites a person with success if the habit is good. The same cable binds a person to failure if the habit is bad. When the habit is chosen, the end-result of the habit is also chosen.

Almost all acquired habits begin slowly, action by action. People are not weighted down suddenly by insupportable habits. Yet, by this very fact, habits can creep up on a person. The binding power of a habit is often too weak to notice until it is too strong to break. Suddenly the person does not have a habit but the habit has the person.

Habits are necessary. They are the building blocks for the house of character. Without continuity from one act to another, human lives would be flimsy and limited like a single action. Habits must enter our lives but they must secure us to success, not failure.

Ability or Dependability.
Ever since the fairy tale days of the hare and the tortoise, the comparison between ability and dependability has been a big issue. No one doubts the superior ability of the hare when it comes to speed. No one doubts the tortoise is a slow, steady plodder. The result of the race and the story: the skilled hare lost the race because he was not dependable to use his skills when needed.

Native ability varies from person to person, but dependability is a matter of personal choice. A happy, productive society needs capable members. Yet if choices must be made, the first choice is for dependable people even if they have less ability. Ability that is not used helps no one. Ability that cannot be depended on is the same as non-existent.

In a choice between ability and dependability, dependability will always carry the greatest weight and do the greatest good.

Memories can be a boon or a curse. It would be nice to write injuries and harsh words in the dust. Then we would write all pleasant happenings in marble. The dust would blow away but the marble would endure.

Impossible? No! We can do even better by using our memories correctly. Memory tends to recall only people or events that make a deep impression. Feelings, our reactions to people and events, are the etching tools that make memories strike deep root.

If you want to forget the unpleasant and recall the happy events, control the etching tool. Don’t brood over the unpleasant. Discouragement, revenge, anger, hatred and jealousy groove the event into your memory. You can be sure it will be back to haunt you. Control the adverse feelings. Concentrate on pleasant events. Etch them with feelings of courage, responsibility, sincerity, and love. Then your memories will be a blessing.

Tenderness: Intense Power.
Tenderness is the ability to speak softly when feelings are ruffled, to say a kind word when one is hurt, to smile with understanding in the face of anger. Tenderness is an intense strength - quiet and unnoticed.

Tenderness is to human society what the starter button is to a large jet plane, an earthmover, a space shuttle, or your car. Unless the starter works, the car is useless. Yet, when you show off your new car, what do you point out? The windswept lines, the beautiful color, the horsepower under the hood, the soft, durable upholstery, and the roominess? No one talks about the starter. Yet without the starter all the other parts are mere trifles.

Tenderness is this starter. Tenderness is intense power carefully administered to give strength rather than crush, to assuage grief, to deepen courage, to wipe away tears, to bring the smile of peace to all faces.

Tact is an Art....
Tact is an art that makes it possible for a person to be truthful and kind, forceful and tender, effective when asking a favor. Tact is a quality that seems to unite opposites to achieve its goal. Tact is a combination of traits that makes living and working with other people a pleasure.

Tact is discretion in speech and action. A tactful person knows when to speak and when to leave something unsaid, when to act - even forcefully, and when to refrain from action. Tact presupposes consideration for the feelings and wishes of others, respect for the rights and person of others and good manners in contacts with others. A tactful person is always polite.

Tact shows itself especially in good humor. A tactful person is not pouty or moody. The tactful person is predictable so that he or she can be relied on in any situation. Tact makes living a delight.

Trees: Master Teachers.
Poets have waxed eloquent on trees. I will not compete with poets. But I want to share some things the tree teaches him who would stop and listen.

The tree teaches strength. When the winds huff and puff the tree sways and bends wildly but stands firm.

The tree teaches patience. A child plants a tiny seedling and looks for signs of growth. Then the child leaves and forgets the seedling. As an adult, the child returns to the school yard. That tiny seedling is now a mighty tree.

The tree shows the beauty of creativity in stunning ways. In the winter, it looks awkward and barren as it stretches its scrawny fingers skyward. Then in spring, those fingers take on life. A tiny bud forms and a beautiful green leaf bursts forth. Those leaves reach up and take the energy from the sun and turn it into leaves and fruit. All winter long, people eat apples from the trees.

For years the tree stands, grows, produces and finally dies. The wood is burned and homes are heated. The wood is planed and beautiful cabinets are made and chairs are carved. Who even gives a thought to the gallons of moisture that the tree puts into our atmosphere each day and the carbon dioxide that it takes out! The tree is a silent master but it speaks constantly to any who would listen. As you walk under the tree or pluck its fruit, listen carefully and learn the wisdom of the tree.

Copyright © 2006-2022. Roets Notes. All Rights Reserved.