Life Lessons

Here’s Everything I Know So Far

Loose leaves, 1st run Tuesday 30 March 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock
Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

Want some advice? Most, but not all, of the lessons from Mom and Dad remain sound. Isolated quotations from articles or interviews still jump to mind. Bill Clinton’s Rules of Politics resonate years after I first read them. I’ve even come up with a few of my own that I’ve seen nowhere else.

Sharing new and old sayings is appropriate for a humor columnist in April Fool’s season. Just as serious drinkers stay home on New Year’s Eve, amateur pranksters should take their jollies in early spring while pro punsters should be figuratively sober for once. Hence, a serious column.

Dad’s five sayings stayed in my wallet for years. He gleaned them from his post-war generation. My father, may his memory be for a blessing, lived by them. As the 20th century ends and careers have overtaken both jobs and professions, all but No. 2 remain true.

  1. Luck is for the prepared.
  2. There is no limit to what you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.
  3. You don’t make this morning the friends you’ll need this afternoon.
  4. Your friends like to see you do well — but not too well.
  5. Just tell the truth. Then you don’t have to remember what you said.

Mom still likes to tell me:

  1. Don’t be a sheep.
  2. He who does not speak is not heard.
  3. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

In this time of constant, professional rumor-mongering, where there is smoke, there often is no fire, just dry ice. The victim of gossip must try vigorously to find and expose to air those carbon-dioxide cakes so they can evaporate to nothing.

Some odds and ends of aphorisms have stuck to me over the years.

  • “Don’t fall.” “Get up.” The favorite corrections of the Kirov Ballet school’s Alexander Pushkin, teacher of Mikhail Barishnikov.
  • “The ‘force’ is in you. Force yourself.” Harrison Ford.
  • “One should always leave the dinner table a little hungry.” Max Perkins, editor of novelists including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.
  • “One is never drained by work but only by idleness. Lack of work is the most enervating thing in the world.” John Steinbeck.
  • “Only a very mediocre writer always writes at his best.” W. Somerset Maugham, about Dorothy Parker.
  • “If there’s no dancing there, it’s not my kind of revolution.” Emma Goldman.
  • “Happy people don’t need to have fun.” Jean Stafford.

My friend Meredith Oakley of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock had the statehouse beat for years and still covers it as a political columnist. When Clinton was governor he told her his personal guidelines. I read them in Oakley’s column a long time ago. She since has published them in her book On the Make: The Rise of Bill Clinton, (Regnery Publishing, 1994).

Bill Clinton’s Rules of Politics (reprinted with Meredith’s permission)

  1. Most people are for change in general, but against it in particular.
  2. Never tell anyone to go to hell unless you can make ’em go.
  3. Whenever someone tells you, “It’s nothing personal,” he’s about to stick it to you.
  4. Whenever it is possible for a person to shift the heat from himself to the governor, he’ll do it.
  5. Under enough pressure, most people — but not everybody — will stretch the truth on you.
  6. You’re most vulnerable in politics when you think you’re the least vulnerable.
  7. When you start enjoying something, it’s probably time to leave.
  8. Never look past the next election; it might be your last.
  9. There’s no such thing as enough money.
  10. Don’t drink in public. You might act like yourself.

Wonder if the president would change or add to these?

Having thought about them for ages I set seven original maxims to paper long ago, which I haven’t referred to since. I just found that leaf in a notebook. It’s dated June 6, 1991. Later that day, I met the woman I would marry.

  1. A man or woman who could be considered a scoundrel [having fluid morals] in one scope of activity often is a scoundrel [having fluid morals] in other areas.
  2. People who strongly believe in fate are not controlled by the heavens but by other people. Manipulators can smell them out like dogs sense fear in a pedestrian.
  3. People are as busy as they choose to be. (If she wanted to see you, she’d find a way.)
  4. People generally do the things they want to do and generally avoid doing the things they do not want to do. As for any thing in the gray middle, that thing generally will not be done, either. There are three shade of gray: (A) A wholly neutral or ambivalent opinion on this thing to do. (B) Partly want to do the thing and partly not want to do it. (C) Changing their mind several times over wanting to do the thing.
  5. Relationships move only forward or backward, grow or decay. Dating relationships that seem to be merely stable, or wavering, really are moving toward dissolution. Yet with vigilance, marital relations have a joyful stability.
  6. In a consensual yet submissive relationship between adults, the passive partner is in charge. Healthy partners exchange dominance in different parts of their lives. In unhealthy relations, the passive partner decides to leave, not the dominant one.
  7. A relationship may well be over when the standard question “How was your day?” suddenly is perceived as an invasion of privacy.

A few weeks after our marriage in 1993 I came up with an eighth rule.

8. Couples are most prone to argue, about anything, when they are tired or hungry.

So far, no one save for my wife has ever admitted the truth of No. 8.


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