John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach who died last week at the tender age of 99, was known for summing up the problems we have in life with short little catch phrases and, even though most of them made a good point about a particular problem or situation, that's not how we live our lives.
Life is messy, sometimes ugly and totally unpredictable. It throws us curves practically every day. We sometimes have as tough a time figuring out ourselves as we do other people and that task is never ending. Why do people do what they do and say what they say? How do they really feel about us? What is it about people that allows them to smile to your face while they're stabbing you in the back?
One of the phrases we hear over and over is "Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it." Now the idea behind that phrase is that the things we want the most might not be best for us if we actually got them but the phrase has no basis in reality at all because how would you know? We've all wished, hoped, even obsessed about having something and then when we got it, we were disappointed but the opposite happens too. We've all wished, hoped and even obsessed about having something and when we got it, our dreams had come true and we were deliriously happy. There's no way to know how something's going to turn out until it turns out.
One of my favorite movie lines is from "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" when Gene Wilder asks the boy who won the grand prize, "Do you know what happened to the boy who got everything he had always wanted? ... He lived happily ever after."
We can't see or predict the future; not even those who say they can. A few years ago you might remember the almost constant advertisements on television for the Psychic Hotline and the pitch-woman was Dionne Warwick, the great singer from the '60s and '70s.
The ad encouraged people to call the hotline and get all their questions about the future answered for a pretty hefty fee. The hotline eventually filed for bankruptcy and I wondered why none of the psychics saw that coming.
I don't believe in witches, goblins, ghosts, fortune tellers, psychics, the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot. I only believe in the reality of the moment and the uncertainty of the future. All of us try to influence events in our lives, present and future, so they will work out in our own best interest. Some of us are pretty good at that, some of us aren't. Some of us believe in the goodness of others, some of us don't. Unfortunately, those who still have a little faith in their fellow man set themselves up to be duped, swindled, and taken advantage of by others who don't lead principled lives and we read and hear and sometimes experience these scam artists on an almost daily basis.
There are far too many people in the world who will lie, cheat, steal and connive to get what they want at the expense of others and it's the trusting people in the world who make that possible.
On the other hand, if we didn't trust, if we didn't have faith in other people, if we didn't give others the benefit of the doubt, life wouldn't be worth the effort. Those of us who believe in the basic goodness of others are going to be disappointed far more often than rewarded but it's those rare rewards that make life worthwhile.
So whether you're a pessimist or an optimist about others, all you can do is fight the good fight, hope that you're rewarded more than you're disappointed and leave the catchy little phrases to the philosophers in life who have nothing better to do than write catchy little phrases.
It's a real crap shoot out there and honest, caring, and decent people are becoming a lot harder to find because we've become so obsessed about our own momentary happiness that we lose sight of the big picture.
And the big picture is our life, from beginning to end. When we die, we won't be remembered for one day or one event, or one decision we made. We'll be remembered for the totality of our existence and all the things we've done, both good and bad.
Some people forget that.