Sword Thrusts or Healing?
A popular adage attributed to John Lydgate, a fifteenth-century monk and a prolific English poet, could be a helpful life lesson: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” But it will only help you if you can fully grasp that the opposite is true: You can’t, you won’t, and to try is a setup for failure.
As I mother, I admit—with a sense of pride—to have put Lydgate’s maxim to good use many times. Any parent with two or more children can relate to invoking an extension of his principle called “majority rules.” It helps us make major decisions, like whether to change school districts or accept a promotion, and minor ones, like what to serve for dinner or where to vacation.
I confess that applying Lydgate to other areas of my life is a work in progress. I struggle to wholeheartedly accept the reality of opposition. I tend to think I’m just one logical explanation away from enlightening others to see things in a positive light. I find myself excusing others’ ill behavior and curt responses. They must have misunderstood, I rationalize. Worse, I turn the blame on myself as an inferior messenger—a difficult judgment to wrestle with for one who works in communications!
The alternative is to accept that we live in a society where negativity rules and individual responses are overwhelmingly rooted in contempt or fueled by controversy. Neither conclusion leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy, so I revert to my standby way of thinking.
Feelings triggered by anger weigh on us and overshadow joy. While stuck in the negativity rut, we are more likely to voice opinions of discontent. On the flip side, if we are pleased, we may ignore taking a satisfaction survey, or we might put off writing a note of praise. In essence, we’re quick to criticize, slow to praise. A case in point is the letter to the editor from reader Mary B. on page 4.
Scripture is chock-full of admonitions to curb our critical tongue. A good example is from the Book of Proverbs 12:16, 18.
Fools immediately show their anger,
but the shrewd conceal contempt.
The babble of some people is like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise is healing.
If, like me, you struggle because you can’t “please all of the people all of the time,” take comfort that we have but ONE God to please. A healing thought for life.