“It ought to be the oldest things, that are taught to the youngest people.”
I once bought a book where the cashier gushed over it. She said it was the best book she ever read in her life. I went home suffused with the glow that the anticipation of a good book will give any reader. And so I began. A few chapters in I was not impressed. Further on, I was wondering where the plot went. I had to plough on, sure I would find the gems the cashier was talking about. Much later on in the book, I was lost in tedious descriptions of character that bored me to tears. I realized the author was flogging his own dead horses and I was captive witness to the attempt. I also privately cursed the cashier, and myself for having been so dumb. In the end I was on my own. I couldn’t finish the book. I thought of lending it, but could not inflict this book on anybody else with good conscience. I finally put the book out of its misery. It found an early end in the trash, stashed under an old newspaper and a banana peel.
Sometimes it can be like that with the unsolicited advice other people pass on. Their verities are uniquely personal and they belong to a time and a place. If we are truly wise we will put a bit of water in the wine. Like the book we might have to make our own assessments in the end.
I was once given some good advice by a fellow woodworker that went something like this: “Most of the box store lumber is junk, but if you are there anyway, take a look at the pile. There will be about twenty twisted and knotty boards in the stack that are not much better than firewood. In that same pile because of the peculiarities of lumber grading, there will be ONE piece, devoid of knots and sometimes without a single flaw. Buy the one board while you are there”.
I was at the home centre today and verified that the price of lumber has at least doubled during the pandemic. I realized I have the equivalent of a 401k plan sitting in my garage at this point, that collection of all the good stuff gathered over time. It’s also like that with personal and life advice. I have in my head a whole collection of great work-arounds, hacks, what to leave alone and what to like. The advice is tempered with a lot of my own bad choices and some good ones that have paid off. I have periodically listened to bad advice and regretted it down the road, though that bad advice looked pretty solid at the time.
I understand a lot of people ask Google and Alexa perplexing life questions these days, and they have had to provide some stock answers that will not get them into trouble. Doing a Google search can put you in worse territory if you are looking for accurate answers, simply because of volume. The preponderance of links will only further confuse you. Fathers and grandmothers used to dispense worthy advice but it seems those days are long gone. It is perhaps better to take your cues from your elders and not the internet.
The bottom line is that life is a long story of cherry picking that pile of lumber. You grab the good stuff while you can, and leave the knotted and flawed stuff behind in the junk pile. Nobody needs junk. And yet, go to any home centre and imagine who buys all those awful boards that are not up to much besides garage shelving. Somebody buys them. it’s a wonder. Some people really don’t know, or don’t care about the difference. The same is true with advice.
The ability to pronounce judgement on anything has hit hard times these days. My kids tell me I am judgemental, and I tell them that I have developed the fine art of good judgement over time. I now know (by and large) the good stuff from the bad stuff. Like the lumber pile, I have cherry picked the best in retrospect and verified what has worked.
At this point I am simply bursting with good advice… with no one to tell it to. Some people have assured me that eventually your kids come back and ask you for your some of that good stuff. They finally figured out that you might know more than their friends. It could be a long wait. Meanwhile… it’s true what they say, youth is wasted on the young.
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