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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: Passages in Life
Word to the Wise: Selected Newspaper Columns

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. Anger, revenge, discouragement, 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.

Make Your Own Tracks.
Children play "Follow the Leader.” This game is fun and creative play. As a life style for older children or for adults, this game is self-destructive.

The underlying principle of the game is that one person thinks or decides and all the rest mimic what they see or hear. Such action for adults is a loss of creative minds and leads to a zombie-infested society.

The older a person becomes, the more he makes his own tracks and carves his own path. He needs to cooperate with others in any teamwork. He needs to consult others to avoid previous mistakes and useless repetition. Each person has to become a master of his own destiny so his tracks are clearly seen. In a democracy each person is responsible for one vote. Woe betides the democracy if the voters play “Follow the Leader” rather than make their own tracks.

Beauty with Age!
Age makes changes. Model T Fords were slow, cold, rough-riding when they were new. Today, age has made them antiques of great value. People wax eloquent about their merits. Kerosene lamps were next door to blindness. Today, age has made them a decorator’s delight. The copper-boiler and the soap-kettle were symbols of backbreaking labor. Today, they stand in front of fancy homes as things of beauty and art. Age gives value, meaning, and beauty.

The same is often true of people. In daily living, many a rough edge surfaces with the good. Year after year, the person chips at this uneven surface. Gradually a true beauty emerges. The beauty of youth was vivacious, resilient, and contagious but it was only skin-deep. Age weathers the skin, covers the shallow beauty with wrinkles and spots, but produces the fruit of life’s labors: the beauty of a personality forged in the crucible of daily living.

“If I Could Choose.”
Many events in life cannot be planned. They happen to you. How you want to use these events or react to them you can plan. Many of these events you would never have chosen. In fact, in your dreams of living, seldom if ever, do you decide that a hardship, failure, illness, or deprivation would be good for you.

When you face the adversity, call on courage to conquer fear, beckon hope to counteract despair, link hands with prudence to thwart impatience. Then you can say, “That was tough. I’m glad it's over. But I really grew because of that struggle.”

As the new cycle starts, take inventory. What character growth do you see in yourself? How did you handle the adverse events of your life? Did you merely get older, or did you mature? You cannot plan most of the opposing events of your life but you can program your growth in and through them.

Yesterday or Today ?
Remember your yesterdays but don't let them use up too much of your todays. The past has many values for the present if you use them. The first and most obvious value is to learn from past mistakes. Never make the same mistake a second time if the prevention is up to you. Also, learn from past successes. Take credit for your successes and repeat them if you can.

Enjoy the humor of past events. At the time they may have seemed a youthful tragedy. Now you can enjoy them as part of your personal growing up. The humor of personal history can often teach the present generation in a forceful way. You can't prevent all the bumps but you can cushion a few.

Take special delight in “I was there” history. Compare clothes, games, toys, wages, jobs, and entertainment of yesterday. This is not mere nostalgia but a bridge of living history. The past unites with the present to build the future.

The Path to Wisdom.
The stages of development in the cognitive life of a person are clearly marked and interesting. From awakening perception until ages 11 or 12, there is wide-eyed amazement. Everything is new and bright. The child is always reaching out to see, touch, or hear something new.

Omniscience and omnipotence appear in the teens and twenties. They have all the answers and can do anything - no limitations. The third stage evolves in the late 20's, the 30's and early 40's. People have entered their jobs or professions. They are married, have families, homes and cars.

Now we see frenzied activity to keep all things afloat. Glib answers of the teens and twenties are glanced at and discarded. Worry, anxiety, frustration, and anger often surface.

Then comes the last stage -- late 40’s onward. Wisdom gets a toehold. Experience has taught acceptance of personal limitations. Goals are reassured and clearly defined. Success comes home more often. The wide-eyed amazement of the child learns that the persevering achievement of the mature adult is better than expected.

When Age Counts.
Ancients are sought for their wisdom. Old people are put on the shelf. Antiques are sought and purchased. Old things are discarded. When does old become ancient or antique? What creates the new value?

If you cut wood for a fireplace or stove, it is best to let it age for a while so that it burns better. New wine must be sealed and allowed to age. As it ages it takes on a mellow taste and the tartness disappears. It gives off a rich bouquet and warms the partaker from toes to head. Old friends know when to talk or be silent, when to sympathize and to ignore, when to praise or to criticize. They are not inquisitive, possessive, or intrusive.

The question then is not really how old a thing or person is but how that person or thing is old. It is rather sad and meaningless when the only proof of age is your years.

Your Diary Grows with You.
A diary is a personal history, written a day at a time. Like all history, it can be truly enjoyed and appreciated only long after the events are history.

Three stages make up the writings of the diary. At first, diaries are too matter-of-fact. These accounts tend to be quite subjective, biased, and lacking in detail. Then the person is a bit older and inner feelings run deep and mysterious. Feelings are poured into the pages and the diarist would just die if anyone saw the contents. Finally, the writer matures and a good blend of facts, feelings and reactions flows into the pages. This third stage is usually of greatest value as a record of events but they can be quite slanted.

The half-hour a day to write can appear an exacting chore. Yet your diary is your book. It is your memory. Your diary is a fond, personal reunion with all the people and events of your life on a day by day basis.

Coping with Sorrow .
Sorrow of its very nature is hard to bear. S0me people try to drown sorrow in drink but sorrow can swim. Others hide sorrow in the midst of people, but there are times when you are completely alone and the sorrow stares right at you. S0me become sullen, morose and refuse to let anyone into their lives. S0rrow - especially the big and the deep - will always win if you tackle it alone. Some try to offset sorrow by outbursts of anger at innocent friends. They have to realize that loss of friendship will be another sorrow.

Coping with sorrow means: 1) Admit the problem, 2) Seek advice, 3) Set a plan in motion. Sorrow will always leave a scar and the scar will never be obliterated. The question is: How will you look on the scar? Will you see it as a constant reminder of the sorrow and use it to stir up self-pity? You will be worse off than before. Or will you see the scar as a sign of victory? You absorbed it and are going on with life. No sorrow is so great that it cannot be controlled. No person is so strong that he does not need help. Look at the sorrow. Get the help. Make the sorrow work for you. Go on with living.

“If Only I Had ....”
You are at the grave of a loved one. As you listen to the words spoken about that person and watch the crowd slowly file away, you remember the words you should have said and deeds of kindness you could have shown. You didn't. Now it is too late. The person can no longer receive your kindness and love in word or in deed.

You can still do something about this. You can show kindness to someone who is still with you and has some of the same claims on you. In fact, you can look on each passing moment as an opportunity that comes and goes. It is up to you to seize the moment and turn it into a word or deed of lasting kindness.

Words of sympathy, humor, gratitude, consideration, respect, and encouragement become living monuments to the people who receive them. For you, they become monuments of satisfaction through the years as you remember with gladness that you were kind, encouraging, sympathetic, or respectful rather than rue the memory of lost opportunities.

The Needs of Old Age.
Old age needs very little but it needs that little very much. The population of the world is getting older because people are living longer than they did in the past.

First of all, older people have experience. Whether they have learned lessons from the experiences is not the question. Their experiences should be known and shared by the next generations.

Secondly, they may be retired but they are not embalmed. Take a few seconds to give an honest smile of recognition and a word of greeting.

Thirdly, older people should get credit for what they have done and made. Gratitude and recognition are best shown by the way in which their efforts and fruits are appreciated and used profitably.

We are going faster and faster, but don't go so fast that you fail to recognize those who have gone before you. A generation gap is made by lack of respect and consideration. Give each other respect and close the gap.

Adolescence: What Is It?
Adolescence is a time of youth, juvenility, teens, puberty, immaturity, greenness, callowness, inexperience and puerility. Each word stresses one or other aspect of a stage in a person's when he/she is growing from childhood to adulthood. Adolescence is a transitional stage of life.

Adolescence is part of normal human life. Adolescents are insecure and try to cover up their insecurity with loud noise and gauche behavior. The boys “grunt” a lot because they don’t trust their voices. They are not sure if the sound will be a high-pitched squeak or a deep bass rumble.

Adolescents, in general, are generous people. They are thrilled to be asked to help and can be trusted to start and finish a job. They may sound brash in criticism of adults. Listen to adolescents in order to broaden your own viewpoints. The adolescents don’t expect their ideas to take over but they do like to be heard. The best part of adolescence is that you never remember the embarrassment, clumsiness or awkwardness once you leave the teens.

Forgiveness is needed in the life of every person at least once or twice a day. You may be the recipient or the giver. It may be needed by people driving when you are a pedestrian or vice versa. It may be people ahead of you in checkout lanes or bus stops. It may be people in your own home. .

Whatever the place, there is always occasion for forgiveness if there are two people present. The ways to displease or offend another are far more numerous than the actions you perform or the words you speak. Therefore forgiveness must be ready at hand at all times.

Forgiveness warms the heart of the giver and the forgiven. Forgiveness removes the sting from the offense no matter how slight it may seem. Forgiveness is to social life what breathing is to physical life. If you stop breathing, you are dead. If you stop forgiving, society is destroyed.

“Be slow to make friends and slower yet to change.” As life moves along, you realize that you make hundreds of acquaintances but friends are few. Friendship means that we give of ourselves to another and receive something from the other person in return. True friendship is always an interpersonal response so make friends slowly. Think long and hard before you give something of yourself to another. Think just as long and hard before you accept the gift of the other person. When you are sure you want this person as a friend, then seal that intention with honest, upright giving.

The second part of this statement is equally true. Be slow to change friends. If you find yourself making and changing friends often, check to see what friendship really means to you.

People soon realize what kind of friendship you offer. If it is the volatile, ever-changing kind, your friendship will not be valued or sought.

Psychiatry without a Degree.
In no way am I belittling the work of professional psychologists and psychiatrists. I want to point out a helper in the counseling profession: A little puppy for a 9-year old client or patient. After 3 years of disruptive home life and finally divorce, the boy couldn’t cope. He grew silent and didn’t want to eat, study, play or respond to anything.

As a last resort, the doctor brought him a puppy and put it on the bed beside him. The change was almost miraculous. The little boy took notice. He made the puppy a part of his life. After several weeks he began to get back some of his old vitality.

What did the puppy say or do? He just licked the little boy’s face. This was the point of contact that brought the boy back to reality. The puppy was just saying in his own canine say, “I love you. Love me!” The boy did. And he came back to life and grew.

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