When I turned a year older but none the wiser a week ago, I received from a friend by snail mail a clipping of an essay by newspaper columnist and author Roger Rosenblatt that — near as can be determined by the handwritten note in the margin — was published in Modern Maturity magazine roughly a dozen years ago.
It listed four guidelines for aging gracefully, and the implied message from my friend in forwarding it seemed to be that I could use some help in that regard. The first two guidelines were titled “It Doesn’t Matter,” and “No One Is Thinking Of You.” The others concerned ignoring your weaknesses while playing to your strengths and never offering honest, frank and open criticism to anyone. At any time. Under any circumstance.
Rosenblatt insisted that committing to the laid-back principle of Guideline No. 1 would add years to one’s life. “Whatever you think matters, doesn’t,” he wrote. It does not matter that you are late for your appointment with the Internal Revenue Service auditor because your car has died. Matters not that you have lost your house keys, the dog has fleas and your checking account is massively overdrawn. All of the above or none of the above. Makes no difference. Do not sweat the small stuff and happiness shall be yours.
As for Guideline No. 2, even though you may be convinced your friends have become your enemies and are plotting against you, it just isn’t so, Rosenblatt suggested. “I promise you: Nobody is thinking about you. They are thinking about themselves, just like you,” he counseled.
One does not have to look much beyond the political campaigns that are blossoming on the local, state and national levels to appreciate the wisdom of that observation. Hear the average politician’s stump speech and there can be little doubt that, when push comes to shove, he — not you — is the person foremost in his thoughts.
I suppose that high on the list of things that don’t matter to New Englanders might be the daily weather forecast.
Astute natives have become conditioned to expect most anything, weatherwise, in this changeable region of the country, regardless of what the weather guy or gal might predict on the evening newscast. And so we make our plans according to our God-given instincts about such things — plus a wetted finger to the wind — and we are rarely disappointed in our weather expectations.
Elsewhere, we learn early in life that it doesn’t matter what line we step into at the bank or the supermarket checkout line, because that line will stop moving — hopelessly hung up on some minicrisis at teller’s window or grocery store cash register — the minute we commit ourselves to joining it.
Nor does it much matter what decision the judge in the courtroom renders. Whatever the ruling, it is sure to upset one faction while pleasing another. Ditto, the cop on the beat, the baseball umpire calling balls and strikes behind home plate or the panel of experts assessing the talent in a local beauty contest.
And for sure it matters not to the crotchety old native Mainer which road the tourist takes to Meddybemps, so the visitor might as well not bother stopping to ask the question.
Any newspaper editor can vouch for the truth of the publishing adage that it doesn’t matter which news stories, photographs or features he or she selects for the paper, there will always be someone to shout from the rooftops or point out in a letter to the editor what a dumb selection it was.
In playing to our strengths and ignoring our weaknesses as advocated in Guideline No. 3, Rosenblatt does not advise what is to be done should our strengths be so meager as to be hardly noticeable. Perhaps keeping the lips buttoned tight might be the best strategy in that case.
As for Guideline No. 4 — never offering honest, frank and open criticism to anyone — it has been my experience that many a guy has learned the wisdom of this guideline the hard way while tiptoeing through the minefield surrounding the mother of all loaded questions: “Honey, does this dress make me look fat?”
Only bad things can come from answering that one honestly. Not that it matters.
BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. His email address is email@example.com.