a 16-word life’s lesson

My godfather, Elwood Randol, was a raconteur. Erudite and possessed of a playfully sardonic spirit.

As a child, I was an inveterate questioner, oft, doubtless annoyingly to others, about the obvious. One day, I walked down our street (the Randols and Abernathys lived only a few houses apart) and espied Uncle Randol (that’s what I called him, for he was a close as a blood relation) washing his car. “What are you doing?” Without looking up, he smiled slightly and, with even voice, replied, “Playing bridge.”

Uncle Randol, among many things, wrote a weekly column for one of the local newspapers. Entitled, “It Seems To Me”, he would share his observations on current news. One day, noticing that he, a redoubtable liberal, read publications of decidedly conservative slants, I asked him why. Turning to me, his tone serious, he said, “If I only read things that agree with my views how can I learn anything else?”

I’ve never forgotten my Uncle Randol’s lesson. I still hear his voice and his stress on the word can. To this day, I research widely, often with especial focus on points of view that challenge, even contradict my own. I then reflect, wrestle with what I’ve read, at times, internalizing the argument, my inner voices raised in point and counterpoint.

This is rarely, if ever a comforting thing to do. Quite like walking a tightrope, particularly in moments when I’ve felt that I understand (and find myself standing between) competing positions of people in conflict. Nevertheless, I’ve found it a beneficial way to be. For me, it’s all about the balance of fairness.

tightrope walker5

3 thoughts on “a 16-word life’s lesson

  1. Rarely comfortable, but always the better thing to do. When I was a young person who knew everything, I rarely listened to anything that didn’t echo my own way of thinking. Now that I’m older, I realize how little I really do know for sure. So I listen more to the young and old, left and right, people at peace or seething with anger. And I learn.


    • Amen, Sandy, amen! I, too, can recall being young and believing, even inchoately and unconsciously, that I knew all I needed to know for me, only to discover (and continually to discover) that I know little. (At times, I feel I know nothing!)


  2. Paul,

    It’s amazing how many life’s lessons we received when we were kids that have stuck with us even though we may not have liked or appreciated them fully when they were given to us.

    Those 16 words you were given are really priceless! I love to research and read other things too and I even force myself to finish articles or papers that I don’t believe one word of!! Just to say I was open to a different view.

    Now that my Mom is no longer conversational I do wish I had captured more of her words of wisdom on paper. Some of them I’ve forgotten but I certainly remember her instruction to always treat others kindly even when it’s hard.

    Love this piece!


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