Every night my wife or I read with our three kids before bed. Lately my oldest son and I have been reading through “Life’s Little Instruction Book,” a delightful three-volume collection of insights for living well by H. Jackson Brown.
They include the practical: “Pay your bills on time” and “Learn how to change a tire.”
Also the whimsical: “Feed a stranger’s expired parking meter” and “Every once in a while, let your kids play in the rain.”
The thoughtful: “Return borrowed vehicles with the gas tank full” and “When you see someone sitting alone on a bench, make it a point to speak to them.”
As well as the thought-provoking: “Never leave fun to find fun” and “Be grateful that God doesn’t answer all your prayers.”
The personal: “Give people the benefit of the doubt” and “Send Valentines to your children as well as your wife.”
And the big-picture: “Never underestimate the influence of the people you have allowed into your life” and Be willing to lose the battle to win the war.”
We’ve also been reading “The Last Lecture,” a funny and moving book by a Carnegie Mellon University professor, Randy Pausch, who gave an upbeat, compelling summary of his life and learning as he was dying of pancreatic cancer.
He loved quoting his father, in part because, as Pausch says, “if you dispense your own wisdom, others often dismiss it; if you offer wisdom from a third party, it seems less arrogant and more acceptable.”
Pausch recounted his dad, a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, telling him to play fair, even if he was in a position of strength in a relationship or at work: “Just because you’re in the driver’s seat, doesn’t mean you have to run people over.” His dad would also say things like, “Never make a decision until you have to.”
As a professor, Pausch also loved quoting old cliches to his young college students. Most of the kids had never heard them before, and so were struck by the insight of these well-worn bromides.
“The reason cliches are repeated so often is because they’re so often right on the money,” Pausch said, citing such chestnuts as “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” and this reminder to focus on the big picture: “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”
(Proving Pausch’s point, that second saying was new to me the first time I read his book.)
Of course, these phrases aren’t a guaranteed ticket to wisdom. Take last weekend’s Dilbert comic, printed in The Chronicle, which found the pointy-haired boss giving inspirational quotes another try.
“Winners never quit, and quitters never win,” he told his employees.
Dilbert replied, “When Ted quit, you gave him a raise to stay,” and co-worker Wally adds, “These work better when you don’t think about them.”
With that said, as graduation season swirls around us, I remember how useful and insightful I found “Life’s Little Instruction Book” to be when I was a teenager, and I’m grateful for the good lessons that my son and I are learning together from “The Last Lecture.”
I’d like to compile something similar from the fine folks of our communities. What insights, advice or practical good sense do you wish the kids of today could take with them into adulthood?
And if the advice is specific to our greater Lewis County area, or draws from your local experiences here, all the better. (One that comes to mind: When the speed limit drops suddenly on Highway 12 as you come into Randle, take that speed reduction seriously. The State Patrol certainly does.)
Send me your words of wisdom for graduates and young people. Tell me your tips for a happy marriage. Tell me something you learned young and never forgot. What did an old-timer tell you back in the day that you have carried with you ever since? What is your biggest regret? As the old saying goes, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
Be sure to include your name, town, and, if you’re willing to share, your age and occupation (or if you’re retired, what you did during your working years.)
Send them to my email below or by mail to The Chronicle, 321 N. Pearl St, Centralia, WA 98531.
I’m looking forward to your insights, as well as your favorite well-worn sayings.
As Pausch said, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the cliche.”
Brian Mittge still follows a lot of that “Life’s Little Instruction Book” advice, and is a better man for it. Contact him at email@example.com.