The Road All Runners Run

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Photo by Jennifer Marr from FreeImagesThe world is an imperfect place. And we are its imperfect inhabitants.

You shouldn’t, as the saying goes, allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. For all our imperfections, we all possess some ounce of good.

Like hating the sin and loving the sinner, it is that ounce of good that we should glorify, amplify, and dignify. It’s what gives us all hope in a world marred by inadequacy and faultiness.

So it was with A.E. Housman, the troubled poet of the 19th Century. If you’re on your toes, you may have caught that the title of this piece alludes to a line in Housman’s greatest work.

While Housman’s works reflect the tragic demons that tormented him, the poignant poem still contains that ounce of good that makes it memorable.

A behavioral economist might call it “reframing.” Us regular folk simply say it’s looking at the bright side of an otherwise depressing subject.

Which ever way you choose to see it, and some would argue Housman’s coy irony actually ruins it, there is that ounce of good lying somewhere in between the lines of the stanzas.

The world is an imperfect place. We are all its imperfect inhabitants.

It’s difficult to understand. In fact, you probably don’t want to understand it. No one does. It’s a natural reaction. It avoids explaining the unexplainable.

But isn’t faith defined by accepting the unexplainable? And wouldn’t it therefore be better to focus on the certain, especially the good in that certain?

That’s what all good panegyrists do. They use their oration to laud their subject, purposefully setting aside the sometimes painfully obvious imperfections and instead concentrating only on the good, the ideal traits we all reach for.

In fact, nowadays, it seems like some prefer to lament ad nauseum about imperfections. It’s gotten to become downright banal.

Think about how this impacts your everyday life. If the news continually harps on the imperfect, don’t you feel worse?

What if, on the other hand, the news spent more time on friendly acts. These are stories of jovial comradery that celebrate our common bonds. It’s the ever-smiling pal who’s always telling a joke or two to lighten things up. It’s demonstrations of loyalty in the face of unsubstantiated doubt.

In short, it is the faithful dog in all of us. We set aside any superficial variations and celebrate the ties that bind us, how we’re much more alike than we are different.

This reliable support demonstrates our community spirit. Emphasize it. Pay tribute to it. Let it become a cause for glad tidings and togetherness.

The world is an imperfect place. We are all its imperfect inhabitants.

Yet, there are times when we are quite courteous. More often than not, we instinctively open the door for others, not because they are less able, but because it is the right thing to do. When we happily take a back seat, allowing others to rise above us, we show deferential manners that pleases those around us.

When you see someone trying to be polite, do you thank them? Your gracious response also represents courteous behavior.

Imagine how comfortable our lives would be if everyone always said “Yes, sir” or “Yes, ma’am.” People still do that. Even young people. It’s a universal sign of respect.

Or just the simple words of “please” and “thank you.”

We’d all be much happier if everyone practiced being considerate instead of protesting. As my grandmother was fond of saying, “you get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”

Many believe this adage comes from Ben Franklin, who, in a 1744 edition of Poor Richard’s Almanack, wrote, “Tart words make no friends; a spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar.” But that’s not the earliest mention of the phrase.

In fact, however, in 1666, Giovanni Torriano published Piazza universale di proverbi Italiani (A Common Place of Italian Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases), wrote “Il mele catta più mosche, che non fà l’aceto” (“The honey catches more flies than not does the vinegar”).

This origin might explain why my Italian immigrant grandmother might have had a fondness for this particular saw.

In either case, courteous people have plenty of honey to spoon around.

The world is an imperfect place. We are all its imperfect inhabitants.

Ironically, the fatal flaw of many literary and cinematic villains is their penchant for a single act of kindness. It represents their Achilles’ Heel. It trumps their desire of world domination.

It also makes them more human.

This is ever truer for merely imperfect (rather than outright villainous) folks. Think about yourself. No matter how mad you get at your mother or father or sister or brother (or anyone else, for that matter), you instinctively desire to do something kind to them immediately after.

But tales of kindness go well beyond family. They highlight neighbors helping neighbors. It’s the story of the Good Samaritan. The person who lends a hand to lift a fallen friend. An individual willing to go out of his way to provide assistance to a needy stranger.

These triumvirate of traits – Friendliness, Courageousness, and Kindness – dwell deep within our very souls. They represent the shining light that guides us in dark times. They can become the rock-solid foundation from which to build a city, a country, a community.

They stand together in that small corner of “perfect” in an otherwise imperfect world.

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