The Cure for Fancy Words

In response to Judy Dykstra-Brown’s poem using oodles of impressive words, I offer the experience of Ben Franklin, an episode that led to deep contrition, when he tried to show himself wise. My apologies if you’ve read this before.

At one point in Ben Franklin’s youth he became enchanted with impressive-sounding words. One day he told his mother, “I’ve imbibed an acephalous mollusc.”

She gasped. Thinking he’d eaten some poison she promptly dosed him with a foul-tasting concoction that made him vomit. The poor boy retched for hours. Once his stomach was settled again, he told his mother all he’d done was eaten an oyster.

“You naughty boy, scaring the wits out of me like that!” And she gave him a good thrashing.

He says this experience cured him of his liking for pomposity; that day he decided he’d never again use fancy words when simple ones would do.

We’ll Never Surrender —Maybe

The Word Press daily prompt word today is doubt. Curious, I picked up my book of quotes, Words of Wisdom, and found this gem:

“The greatest quality of leadership is the ability to hide your panic from the others.”

business-peopleI hope leaders don’t go around in secret panic, but we know that every undertaking has the possibility of failure. A good leader won’t rattle on about his misgivings and the possibility of impending disaster. He weighs his options, decides on a course, and rallies the troops.

As Winston Churchill once did with his rousing speech:
“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

He didn’t say:
We shall try to defend our island as best we can and hold out as long as we can, though it’s going to be a pretty tough go. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender until we have to.

Or do you all think we should rather give in now already? After all, we may not win. The enemy army is pretty strong, you know, and well organized. They may defeat our army, overrun our island and slaughter us all. But still, I think we should do our best to repel them — or would we be better off to wave the white flag and avoid all that bloodshed?

Not very inspiring.

How often in our day-to-day lives don’t we need people with courage and confidence? The following incident came to mind:

The teen son of a friend was doing some quick welding one day and a sliver of metal landed in his eye. My friend drove him to the medical clinic, then held her breath as the doctor took a razor-sharp blade and scraped the surface of the boy’s eyeball to dislodge the sliver.

She trembled, knowing one slip of that blade could cause permanent damage, but seeing the doctor’s confidence and steady hand gave her courage. A moment later the sliver was removed. My friend sighed with relief as she and her son left the office, prescription for antibiotic drops in hand.

Imagine yourself in that situation. How confident would you feel with a nervous doctor dithering away as he examined your child’s eye? Maybe he’d say, “Hmm… I’m not sure if I can get this out. I’ll give it a shot, but one slip of my blade and I’d slice his eyeball. I hope that won’t happen, because then infection might set in and he’d be blind in that eye for the rest of his life. I trust I can hold my hand steady enough, but I get a bit shaky when I’m tense, you see.”

Then he picks up the blade. Would you let him have a go at the child’s eye?

Granted, there’s the old “Look before you leap” advice. Yet prudence — thinking the matter through before acting — is a different species than the debilitating worm of doubt.

Invitation to Chip In

“She has the money,” Fred argued. “Her husband left her swimming in the stuff. She can’t spend it all, so why not give some to her daughter if she needs it?”

George clunked his empty mug on the table, scowling. “So you think it’s okay for May’s son-in-law to blackmail her like this? To forbid the grandkids to see her unless she forks over the dough for their mortgage payments?”

Fred waved a hand in protest. “I didn’t say that exactly.”

“The poor boys have to sneak out if they want to see their grandma. I think their dad’s a deadbeat if he’s expecting May to pay for their home. He needs to get out and find a job.”

“But people hit rough spots sometimes. Maybe he’s tried and there just isn’t anything right now? Besides, Nadine’s her only child. She’ll inherit everything when May’s gone. Why not give her some now? May’d never miss it.”

George stubbornly shook his head. No way were they ever going to agree on this issue.

Suddenly he sat back and looked Fred in the eye. “If you’re feeling so charitable why don’t you help them out? You sold your farm. You’re sitting on a pile of money yourself. You could pay off their mortgage and never miss it.”

Fred snorted. “Are you kidding? Why should I shell out to support that shiftless son-in-law of May’s? He’s not my problem.”

George recalled that old cliché. “The worm has turned! It’s always easier to solve a problem when the answer doesn’t come out of your pocket.”

Fred turned red, then glanced at the clock. “Gotta be going.”

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Last night I recalled a conversation I was part of years ago. A dear friend of my dad was in this situation: emotional blackmail, you could say. Her nine-year-old grandson, being forbidden contact, would sneak away from home to see her. I listened as one party in the conversation presented Fred’s argument, which had some validity. My dad thought like George.

What about you? How would you advise May?

I gave the tale this ending twist to fit today’s Word Press prompt: invitation.

“Another Thousand, Please”

Today’s Word Press prompt is renewal, so I’ll offer this humorous incident as my response:

One day a friend’s preschooler told her, “I wish when we were born we could each get one wish.”

“So what would your wish be?” his mother asked.

“I’d wish for a thousand more wishes. Then when those ones were nearly run out, I’d wish for another thousand.”

“That means you’d always get whatever you want. That doesn’t sound like a good idea to me at all.”

Her son frowned. To him it seemed like a brilliant concept.

Isn’t it amazing just how ingenious children are, being unhindered by the common sense that fetters us parents?
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“Being frustrated is disagreeable, but the real disasters of life begin when you get what you want.”
– American writer, Irving Kristel