Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Words to Learn By

I loved this Editor's section written by one of my law partners, Tim Weitz. He was the Executive Director for the Texas Physical Therapy Association for many years and recently left and this was his last article as Editor. I think it applies to many situations that nurses face daily, so here it is for you to ponder:

Long Last Words: Wise Old Sayings and Other Stuff

By Tim Weitz, J.D.
TPTA Executive Director

With my time at the TPTA coming to an end on October 31st, I have wondered what would be the best final message to leave on. Since it is my last message and there was some extra space to fill, I got to indulge myself by being even more long-winded than usual. Chalk it up to editor’s privilege and the fact that I’m leaving. With the holiday season close at hand and a new year not far away, it has been my experience that people tend to lean toward introspection and dwell on some of the more philosophical aspects of life. I certainly do. With my upcoming departure, I have done so even more than is typical for me. As a result, my comments in this Executive Director's Notebook reflect this mindset. Now understand that given the forum these comments are intentionally secular in nature. It isn't that I am not spiritual or don't have a view of the universe that is to a large extent grounded in a religious belief. It is simply that for an association newsletter, it is perhaps best that I stick to worldly things to avoid unintentionally offending the good people that I work for --- all of the members of the Texas Physical Therapy Association. In short, what follows are some things that I don't believe and a quite a few things that I do. I don't know who is responsible for all of these witticisms, cynicisms, and other "deep thoughts." I may not have the quotes exactly right or may use a version that is slightly different than the way you know it. Nor can I tell you who first said all of these things - maybe Ben Franklin, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Truman, Gandhi, Sam Rayburn or someone else much smarter and certainly much better known than me --- nevertheless, these sayings have become integrated into our culture and are tossed about rather casually. So for me at least, they are worthy of a couple of comments as we move toward the new year and I go on to write the next chapter of my life.

Let me start with some things that I don't believe. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." While I certainly understand that good intentions without corresponding actions are virtually useless and can agree with that interpretation, I cannot agree that good intentions are the asphalt of the roadway to torment and misery. Frankly, from my experience, good intentions usually lead to good actions which in turn lead to good results. Even when good intentions yield bad results, I still think you should get credit for having your heart in the right place. More often than not, a good heart will get you there. It's right up there with "Nice guys finish last." Don't believe it. Never will. I guess part of this is how you define first and last place as well as what you mean by "nice." I can tell you that nice doctors don't get sued as much when they make mistakes. See the above discussion on good intentions. Then there is the ever popular "No good deed goes unpunished." Disagree. Sometimes doing the right thing is much harder than doing the easy thing. Sure it's hard, but it isn't really punishment. On the contrary, it is simply the price of taking the high road. It may go unappreciated, but good deeds don't usually come easy. The best ones are often the hardest.

Now for two of the dumbest ones I disagree with. "What you don't know won't hurt you." I believe this one was originally coined for people who rationalize cheating on their spouse, fiancé, boyfriend, or girlfriend. It'll hurt plenty. It just takes longer for the bad stuff to build up and bust its way into everyone's lives. Likewise, I am "underwhelmed" by the "gem" of "Ignorance is bliss." No, I don't believe that. To me, ignorance is a prescription for disaster. Stay ignorant about what is going on in government affairs or if there is gas leak in the old stove in the kitchen. Then get back to me after the legislative session is over or after you lit a match in a house filled with natural gas. Like the other adage about what you don't know, it may take some time, but believe me when I say that "bliss" is the last thing it will be when your ignorance blows up in your face. It will hurt plenty. While I'm alluding to the legislative arena, how about that consolation statement of "Better late than never." Wrong. Sometimes, late might as well be never. Some comets only come by once in a lifetime. You sleep through it, and it's gone. The last bus stops running at 11 p.m. so you better be on it. When legislation is passed and signed by the Governor or the President, late isn't any better than never. It just heightens your embarrassment because you knew and failed to act promptly.

Then there is "Only the good die young." Not true. We just miss them more. "Might makes right." No, it just makes for control, but a dictatorship no matter how strong, just ain't right in my book. "Like father like son." Not quite true either. I have found that many times the two are very different, and presumed honor or guilt by genetics doesn't fit in my experience. Same goes with the old saying of "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." Look around. We aren't our parents - sometimes it's a good thing and sometimes it's not so good. I've seen lots of kids making up for the sins of their parents and vice versa. As for the classic "One bad apple spoils the whole barrel." Not in my book. I know one bad element in any mix of people can cause some problems, but from what I have seen one good apple can salvage a whole bunch of bad ones. One strong witness at a legislative hearing has been known to make up for all of the people who rolled over and stayed in bed because it was too cold and too far to drive.

"My country, right or wrong." Torn on this one, but I'll have to say that with a strong German heritage, this one doesn't fly with me either. Not to place all evil at the foot of Nazi Germany since I could cite to a number of other countries and horrendous transgressions against humanity, but it is a rather striking counter to this patriotic tripe. Even being a proud American, I will confess that there have been more than a few times I wanted to immigrate to Canada or Australia. I'll leave it to you to guess which times. We're all entitled to our political views, and I wouldn't want to offend --- just want to make you think.

"If you can't beat them, join them." Sorry. Can't do it. Think about the healthcare environment and physical therapy, and then tell me whether you're willing to go with this one. Yes, you know who I'm talking about, but I don't want to offend them either. It's getting close to the legislative session and the holidays. I'll wait to offend them during another time of the year.

"Better to be lucky than good." I don't think so. Luck runs out and it can be bad just as often as it can be good. Being good has staying power. Nice to be lucky and good, but in the long run I'll pick good over luck every time. "Even a blind hog finds an acorn sometimes." The hog is still blind and "sometimes" usually isn't often enough. That's the problem with relying on luck. So for me, this sort of ties in with "Don't sweat the details." Disagree. Sweating the details and getting them right is what makes you good, and causes others to think you're lucky. More to come on this subject.

"Best to forgive and forget." I'll go half way on this one. I'm all about forgiveness. Revenge is petty and a grudge kills your own soul. Just takes too much energy. Even so, forgetting a misdeed or a betrayal is just plain stupid. Sharks will be sharks and act like sharks. Forgive them for it, because those are their limitations. Forget it and you'll become their chum --- and not the good kind either. Pain keeps the memory sharp. There is a reason that it is one of the best teachers. Often unforgettable.

"All good things come to those who wait." I don't know who said this one, but I disagree. While "patience is a virtue," waiting around has just made me tired and not really brought me many freebies or good things. So with that said I'll switch to some of the things I believe to help put the foregoing comments in context. In fact, this is a good place to talk about my thoughts about waiting and the nonsense that all good things come to those who wait.

I believe "Who dares, wins!" as espoused by more than a few elite fighting units who have adopted the slogan. I believe that "Fools rush in where brave men fear to tread;" however, to succeed you often have to take calculated risks. At times you must dare to stick your neck out even if you risk having your head lopped off. This does not mean, blindly jumping into a pit of boiling tar. I believe in being bold, but also believe that you must "Look before you leap." I was always the kid that wanted to see how deep the water was or if there was an old sunken car beneath the water below the bridge we were going to dive off of. I'm in my forties now and have the use of all of my limbs. This one goes with "It's always good to have a worrier in the group." Keeps everyone on their toes, and if the worrier is wrong, no harm done --- if right and no one listened, then "Houston, we have a problem." Same concepts in "Better safe than sorry" and "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

"The devil is in the details." This one doesn't require much explanation so I'll let your own experiences speak to that, but while you dwell on it, think about this: "Take care of the details and the big picture will take care of itself." Last time I checked, the big picture was made up of lots of little details. Ever look at all the little pixels on your old TV set? Taking care of the details also has convinced me that, "You make your own luck." Consequently, while some argue that it is better to be lucky than good, I respond that if you're good, you don't need luck but it will sure look like you have it.

Since there are more things that I believe than don't believe, I have to believe in editing. So what follows is a two-minute drill of some of the other things I believe. When I think it's needed, I'll throw in a short explanation. Otherwise, you will just have to ponder it over the coming year or call me for an explanation. "Misery loves company." Not sure why, but maybe it gives folks common ground and something to talk about. "He who laughs last laughs best." Usually the joke is over at that point and if you're laughing last you are probably not the one left holding the bag on a snipe hunt.

"There is no honor among thieves." No explanation required. If they steal from others, what makes you think that they won't steal from each other or from you? Are you really that special? Same goes for liars. "Ride with an outlaw, die with an outlaw." Go along with the gang or the mob and you share the responsibility. Simple as that. That's what felony murder laws are all about so that the driver of the get-away car is just as responsible for killing the bank guard as the guy who shot him. This criminal law comparison of course reminds me of the other good piece of advice, "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime." A broader application is if you can't live with the possible adverse results, then you have no business taking the risk. Sort of like, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." It also speaks to taking on stressful jobs and then complaining about them. Which makes me think of the legislature again and the saying "Politics is a long road." It is indeed. Don't kick people when they’re down or celebrate too much when you are up. Long roads have bumps as well as beautiful scenery.

Now for some good 'ol West Texas ones. "Don't take your guns to town." This was a favorite saying of my mom which she usually said to me on Friday and Saturday evenings when I was a teenager. Don't go looking for trouble. It finds you often enough on its own. On the other hand, "Don't take a knife to a gunfight." Don't go looking for trouble, but be prepared for it. Sort of links in to the more hawkish viewpoint of "Peace through superior fire power." I believe that too. I also believe the old wisdom of "It don't take long to look at a red hot horseshoe." Try picking one up and looking at it close. You'll be dropping it mighty fast. Frankly, not every problem requires a research committee or study group. Look, but not too long. Take action. Remember, "Who dares, wins."

"Birds of a feather flock together and so do pigs and swine." We usually focus on the first part of that saying. Look around at the flock you are in and then take a look at some of the pigs and swine you know to see who they hang with. Along these lines, I do believe "You can tell a lot about a person by who their friends are" and "you can tell even more by who their enemies are." As for "keeping your friends close and your enemies closer," I understand the first part of this saying completely, but the second part of it only makes sense if you interpret it to mean that you need to know what they are up to. Frankly, I try to keep my enemies as far away as possible. My brother always taught me, "Never let them walk up to you" and "Keep them at arms distance." Advice for basketball players in a hostile gym, but good advice in general when dealing with the enemy whoever they may potentially be.

"Two wrongs don't make a right." Agreed. If an explanation is required, I'm wasting my time. "The means justifies the ends." Disagree. Explanation shouldn't be required. Water boarding. Need I say more? "What goes around comes around." The world is round and we do in fact reap what we sow. "To get along, go along." Actually, this makes sense in the political context if you understand that compromise is what has to eventually happen. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." No explanation required.

A couple more good legislative-oriented quotes should be thrown in here as well. "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again." "The world is run by those who show up." Good things to keep in mind when fighting legislative battles. I am also rather fond of "If you don't ask, the answer is always 'no.'" Even so, there are poor politicians and others that have proven up, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink." Substitute "think" for "drink."

"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth." You have to like this one. It's a gift. No complaining allowed even if the horse doesn't have good teeth. It is still more horse than you started the day with. I also favor the adage, "You get what you pay for." Quality is usually not inexpensive and contracting with the lowest bidder has not led to impressive results in most cases I have seen. This last one ties in with, "Money talks…."

A couple of thoughts on leadership are probably appropriate for this message as well. "Loyalty is a two-way street." Believe me when I say that if it isn't a two-way street, it is going to be a very short ride and it's time to get off the road. Likewise, using another West Texas favorite, "If you take the paycheck, you ride for the brand." If you don't like where the trail boss wants you to ride or how, then quit taking the paycheck and find another ranch. "You lead from the front." People can be led, not pushed. Lead by example, because it is true that "Actions speak louder than words" and you don't want to be "All hat and no cattle." While I agree that "Two heads are better than one," I also know that "Too many cooks spoil the soup." Not everything can be done by committee. "Too many chiefs and not enough Indians." Makes me think of the legislature again, but also applies in most other group contexts. Ultimately, someone has to be in charge and others have to follow. "The buck stops here." If you are the one that takes the paycheck, becomes the chief, leads from the front by example, and are responsible for the soup --- then the final responsibility is yours. "With great privilege comes great responsibility."

Let me end with some thoughts I believe that are perhaps more serious than some of the others. "Life is fragile." We should treat it like grandma's best and oldest china. "We are not made of iron." People make mistakes and feel pain. Allow for it and don't be too hard on yourself or others. "If you aren't making mistakes, you aren't doing anything at all." Oddly enough, to me not doing anything at all is a mistake. Bumper sticker: "Life is the school. Love is the lesson." Very true. I also believe that a society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable --- animals, elderly, disabled, and children. I think Gandhi gets credit for that one. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Most of us know where that came from - "Golden Rule" for generations of believers of all kinds. For those of us that like it in somewhat more modern jargon, I leave you with it all boiled down into the best quote from the movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. It is also my parting words for the members of the TPTA: "Be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes."