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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: Special Days
Word to the Wise: Selected Newspaper Columns

A Happy, Productive, New Year!
The first day of the New Year has great meaning. All days of this year are opportunities waiting to be used. The year is not a solid block to be fashioned or destroyed in one choice. The year unfolds, seconds at a time, and each person is responsible only -for the seconds as they are offered.

Each moment is a new choice. If a person makes a mistake in a given moment, usually there will be an opportunity to change the choice in the next moment, unless the previous choice was self-destructive. To become a productive, successful choice, each moment demands effort according to the needs of the person and the work to be done.

Two traits that guarantee happiness throughout the year are the habit of using each opportunity as presented and enthusiasm in moving forward even in the face of routine, repetitious, or trivial actions. Make each moment productive and yours will be a Happy New Year, all years.

Look for the Scapegoat!
On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the Jewish High priest extended his hands over the scapegoat. In the ritual, this meant that the sins of all the people passed to the goat. Then the goat was driven into the wilderness to die and the sins of the people were forgiven, provided they were truly sorry.

Today the practice of looking for a scapegoat is often used and has nothing to do with religion or ritual. When there is a failure, the tendency is to look for someone to blame. If the seeker would but look inside, bend the finger back on self, the matter would be settled and the remedy applied. Shifting the blame fails to find the guilty person and atonement isn’t made.

The first question in failure should be: Have I failed? Is the error my fault? If the answer is “yes.” admit the fact and look to the remedy. Do not waste time trying to pass the blame to a hapless scapegoat.

Be My Valentine.
As Valentine Day comes, I’m on the playground as the school buses stop. Children are all excited. They have a bag or box full of valentines for the teacher and all their friends. The older children, 4th to 6th grade, especially the boys, are eager too but it is not really macho to let it show. They look totally indifferent as they pass out the valentines but they would be crushed if someone refused it. The high school students give valentines to a select few or maybe only one. Valentines are much more serious at this ripe old age.

Married people give valentines to each other. It’s interesting to go to the stores the day before and see the number of men shopping. Some of them are anxious because they waited so late. All the nice cards and gifts have been picked over. Some of the cards are too mushy. The humorous cards are funny but they might not be appreciated. Finally, many of them grab a nice box of chocolates and think about a nice place to go for dinner.

The custom of valentines is old and no one really knows where or why it started. Fortunately, it is a real part of our society. It adds a bright moment towards the end of winter. It offers a chance to make explicit the love we feel but so often take for granted. Happy Valentine to all of you!

Honest Abe.
Many years ago I read the story of Abraham Lincoln, the boy, and the borrowed book. I was so young, I had a hard time figuring how he could have put the book in between the logs in the wall or how the rain could have come through. I could easily imagine his eagerness to get the book to read, his horror when it was ruined, but above all, his honesty in going back to face the owner and accuse himself of neglect.

Some historians say the story is spurious and made up to glorify Abe. That makes no difference to me. The story still gives a real picture of a great man who had to take the two halves of this nation in his hands and bring them back together. His heart bled for the North and the South. He knew the fighting would settle nothing. He hoped bargaining table was possible.

Finally, the war was over and Abe could go about the terrible task of rebuilding. He went to a theater to relax and a coward’s bullet ended his life. His life was over but his strength and influence go on. His homespun wisdom still charms and leads those who would listen. We salute a man who walked from behind the plow to walk in front of the nation in its most trying hour.

Spring Will Come.
We are just about to the end of summer so it may seem strange to talk about spring. But there is purpose in my madness. Spring is the season that can often look doubtful. The trees are barren of leaves and flowers. The empty branches wave in an awkward, protesting way in the cold, arctic air. The ground has been frozen for months and the snow is cold and crusty. The walks and roads are often slippery and even dangerous. You sit inside looking out on the bleak countryside and wonder: Will spring ever come?

Spring did come! Now that fall is upon us, look carefully at the promise of last spring. Look at the fields covered with corn, beans, cattle, and pigs. See the tree’s juicy apples. The grapes practically make you drool. Yet last winter, you wondered if spring would ever come. Spring came, summer came, and now autumn is at hand with all the fruits of all the seasons.

The cycle of days, weeks, seasons never grows old. Nature’s cycle happens each year. Our years should be the same. The planting, working, reaping, and enjoying should go on not merely from year to year, but from day to day so that our life is a song entitled “Yes, the Spring will come.”

The Message of Easter.
The first Easter took place in a world embroiled in intrigue, lies, hatred and war. The message of the first Easter was peace, joy, harmony among all people based on the human dignity of each person. People could disagree but the differences would be settled by open discussion and not by despotic authority. The message of Easter is grounded on respect for each other, consideration of each other's feelings, and the desire to help one another reach self-set goals.

The leaders had told the guards who had run back in terror from the empty tomb, “Take this money and go out and tell the people that while you were asleep, the disciples came and stole the body.” If the guards were asleep how did they know who had taken the body? If they weren't asleep, why didn't they stop the thieves?

The message of Easter is loud and clear: joy - because of the dignity of the human person. Don't put the corpse back in the tomb and then preach the bleak emptiness of the enslaved worlds of the Greeks and Romans.

MOTHER: Each Letter, a Volume.

M: is for a Magnanimous person who gives Meaning to all Memories and a Mainstay in Misfortune and Misunderstanding.

O: is for a type of Omniscience that puts Order in chaos and develops Outlooks that carry through life.

T: is for a Talent of Tact that guides Thoughts, Teaches Thrift, and turns Tragedies into Treasures of Trust.

H: is for a Happy Haven of Hopeful Habits that Heal broken Hearts and make an Honest Home.

E: Is for an Eager Efficiency that Enriches Education by Efficient use of Energy and Enthusiastic Example.

R: is for a Responsible Recipe for Resolute Respect that provides Reliable Refuge, Relaxing Recreation and deep-Rooted Reputation.

Armed Forces Day.
Men and women have heard the call to the military and they have responded. They do the job they are asked to do to keep our country safe.

Armed Forces Day is a day set aside to honor all our military people. We honor them because they have defended freedom everywhere in the world. They have protected us against unseen aggressors. We honor them especially because they have not been aggressors. Might does not make right. Our military defends the rights of the oppressed.

The Statue of Liberty in the Harbor invites all the oppressed to come to her for protection and freedom. If we ever walk over the rights of others and destroy their freedom, then the Statue must come down or at least the motto must be erased. We salute our Armed Forces because they have served the ideals of responsible freedom.

Graduation: The End-Product?
Some people have advised that the standards of measurement used in a factory be applied to the end-product of education, the student. Whoa up for just a second. There is one major difference that has not been considered. These students did not come as inert matter but as people with or without motives to learn. The teacher can be giving all and not one bit of it is reaching the student because the internal motivation is lacking. Motives are an internal dynamic force produced by the person and no one can supply for the lack of motives.

Excellence in education is a marvelous idea. Excellence in education depends on students who cooperate with teachers who work under an administration who lead in harmony with a school board who is perceptive in response to a public that is interested governed by a legislature who does its homework. Graduation Day presents the end-product of education effected by the collaboration of all these groups. If one group fails the others, there is no possibility of education or excellence in education.

A FATHER Is.....

F - A Faithful Friend to Follow. A man who through Fatigue and Foresight keeps the Fragile Family Firm. A man who stills Fears to Fulfill Freedom.

A - An Authority who serves as an Anchor to establish Ambitions and an Ally who Assists with Affection to remove the Aches of effort and open eyes to Adventure.

T - The Trusted guide to Thoughtful Triumphs from the days of Toys to the Treasures acquired by adult Tenacity. The provider of the Table that feeds the body and gives Truth to the mind.

H - The Heart big enough to be a Haven of Hope and Honor for all who work for Harmony. He is the Hinge that bridges History with its Hardships and Haloes.

E - The Ear that listens to the questions of the child, the strength that Endures the Emotions and Emergencies of Youth, the wisdom that shares the Expertise of an Elder with the young adult.

R - The Reliable Reasoning that Refreshes all of life with a logic that Reigns supreme.

Memorial Day.
Memorial Day is an opportunity to give public honor to those who did not come home to a parade or the praise showered upon them. Memorial Day solemnly recalls all those who gave their lives on the field of battle.

Some died in 1776 and their lives assured us of a free country. Another war assured that shipping lanes were free to commerce. Another war held the Union together. Another war determined the boundaries with our neighbors. Another war wanted to make the world safe for democracy and do away with the need for any war. There were more wars and conflicts not called wars.

From all these wars and conflicts, gallant and brave soldiers did not return. Their bodies lay where they had fallen or were buried in the war-torn land. But their blood was not shed in vain. Their bravery, their dedication, their loyalty, their love fostered the ideals of democracy in this country. This Memorial Day we thank them and honor them for their devotion to duty.

Honor Old Glory.
Every school child is thrilled at the story of Betsy Ross and her making of the flag. Our hearts beat a bit faster as the “National Anthem” or “Stars and Stripes Forever” thunders over the crowd. We are so proud of our Flag that we have set aside a special day to honor it each June.

Let us recall the basics of the flag. The white stars on the field of blue remind us of the unity and individuality of each of our 50 states and all the citizens living in them. The 13 stripes remind us of the 13 tiny groups of people who struggled in colonial America to give us our start. The red tells us of all the blood that has been shed in the defense of this country and its ideals. The white tells us how high those ideals really are.

Every citizen has an obligation to respect the flag and the ideals for which it stands. Honor and respect are due to this banner of our country every day of the year in the life of every citizen.

Someone Has To Watch The Parade!
The Fourth of July is a day weighted with deep emotion, brilliant dreams, and glorious memories. At the same time it is a day of close friendship, favorite foods, and simple fun. All these ideas are bound together in parks, picnics, and parades. It is a time to recall our debt of gratitude to all the people who have made the present possible. It is a time to recognize heroes.

Who are the heroes of our country? We know George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Florence Nightingale, Susan B. Anthony, Betsy Ross, Harriet Tubman. These are the people who had glory thrust upon them and they responded willingly and fully. There are myriads of other heroes. They are the ones who sit on the curb to watch the parade and clap for the heroes. Without their cheers, encouragement, and support, the parade wouldn’t mean much. There is little excitement in marching down barren streets, between empty curbs, before empty, silent grandstands.

Back to School.
Vacation is over again! School is about to start. The students will come in new shoes and clothes, carrying new backpacks filled with new pencils, pens, crayons, and notebooks. Eagerly they run to the lists to see which room will be their haven for the year. Nervously, they walk in and sit down. They look around for friends and wonder about the new children. Then the teacher's voice breaks in and the year has begun.

What is inside these students to make sure this will be a successful year of great personal growth? It won't happen by accident. Fortunately, learning is an individual responsibility. No one can force anything into the mind of another against his will. If this were not true, one person could easily control the world and make a herd of robots out of the rest of people.

Outsiders can only present knowledge and ideas. Each person must decide whether to open up his mind and let the knowledge in. As the school year starts it is essential that all these children willingly open their minds to receive ideas, facts and information of every kind.

Thank You!
Thanksgiving Day is associated with turkey, ham, cranberries and pumpkin pie. This is fine but it is not the heart of the American holiday.

This holiday symbolizes a simple lesson taught to children. A favor must always be acknowledged at least by a “thank you.” Everyone is pleased when a small child responds with a sincere “thank you.” Why then, do adults so often fail to express this common courtesy?

This year, make a clear resolution to thank sincerely every person who shows you a favor: parents-children, students-teachers, employers-employees, waiters-diners, nurses-aides, doctors - patients, policemen-civilians. This list is endless.

Resolve: I will show my sincere gratitude to every person who helps me in any way. Be aware of the person you address. Thank this person. You'll feel and act better! Thanksgiving Day will be not only a special day but also a special trait of citizens on all days as it was in the first colony.

Christmas - Every Day?
Christmas Eve arrives. Families get together. Many a happy hour is spent recalling the past and planning the future. Christmas appeals, year after year, like no other holiday.

Christmas began as a holiday of kindness. Kindness was to foster joy and joy would bring peace to everyone. Christmas was not just cards, trees and tinsel, and not the gushing of warm words, however enthusiastic. Christmas was to be kind deeds from one person to another, from one home to another. Christmas was a feast of kindness to be felt here and now.

Today, the personal aspect is often missing. Cards are a custom. Presents are expected. Parties are a duty. The same person may not get even a nod the rest of the year. The same people may have hearts filled with sorrow but there is nary a moment for sympathy. An hour or a day of celebration, once a year, does not replace the lack of kindness on the other 364 days. Christmas has to be daily, not yearly.

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