Silence is Golden, or Poison

Every person’s life is worthy of a book. I hope you are writing yours, or saving and collecting the material to one day write it.
I am in the midst of mine.
For those of you who just tuned in, this is the next installment of my memoirs currently in production. The previous installments are available on my web page I hope you find it interesting.
The book is titled, Live Long*, Learn a Little, Laugh a Lot.

Up to now we have been jumping from one memory to the next in more or less chronological order. My hope is that I have planned and lived generally with a long perspective. Now I’d like to look back with the focus of the second part of the title, “Learn a little.” Everything I have learned came through some kind of situation, not always breathtaking, sometimes boring, but couched in some setting. The experiences brought not many epiphanies, and not always happy endings, but often a fact or lesson worth adding to my modest store of knowledge, and maybe even a little wisdom. Including…

Learn a Little

My father liked this saying, “Better to keep quiet and be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.” I think there is some wisdom in that. I could write a book, maybe a set of encyclopedias on the things I have said that were less intelligent than silence. Usually these pearls of foolishness spilled out when I was angry or under pressure. Inevitably sooner or later, sometimes years later I have wished I could inhale these words back.

But, as the late Paul Harvey used to say, “It’s mighty hard to unring a bell.”

So I decided a long time ago to take responsibility for my words and actions. The current buzz word is “accountability.” To paraphrase the song, “I was country when country wasn’t cool”. I like to think I was accountable when accountable wasn’t admired. Full disclosure: I often didn’t/don’t live up to my lofty goal. But I believed in it, still do.

To achieve accountability, I vowed that under pressure my first response would to shut my mouth. Later when I had time to analyze the situation and prepare a proper response I would do so. Alas, like most silver bullet solutions, this has its limitations. It can even cause its own problems. I have a pretty good collection of times when I should have spoken but didn’t.

I was a hot shot Sunday School teacher in my church with all the wisdom and insight of 18 years when I picked up a piece of chalk from the ward (congregation) “media center” a closet containing a few battered copies of the scriptures, a short stack of faded pictures, chalk and an eraser or two. I was in a hurry as usual, and I snatched a piece of chalk and started for my class room. I heard a shriek behind me. “Put that back! That’s our chalk. You’re a thief that’s what you are! You’re a thief!”

I looked around to see if I could help catch the thief, and saw Sister Haskell, one of the older (all adults were older to me in those days) sisters in our ward pointing her threatening finger at me.

Only she wasn’t in our ward any more as of the previous week. The ward had been divided, and so had the closet. I didn’t stop to figure that out. I just smiled and said, “Whatever.” Or whatever the 1955 version of “whatever” was.

I remembered later, but tossed it off. Even now I think she was trying to kill an ant with a sledge hammer. But still wish I hadn’t let her go to her grave thinking I was running an underground crime ring peddling stolen chalk.

Why didn’t I say something at the time? Youthful pig headedness I think. I didn’t cotton to the idea of humbly asking forgiveness of this screaming woman.

Same story, different scene: I am standing in the middle of my hay field by an irrigation ditch when a car comes speeding up the field toward me, stops and two men jump out. One I recognize as the water master who turns water into my ditch. The other man is a stranger to me. I hope he remains so from the look on his face. I take a firmer grip on my shovel handle in case it comes to that. I think it won’t because I have the law on my side in the form of the water master.

I already know the problem. Every week I order water from the canal. The water master turns it in, and this hydro-thief on the same ditch line sneaks up and opens his head gate half way to siphon off some of my water. He thinks I won’t notice because the canal head gate is way up a hill. Most people wouldn’t walk up to check if somebody up stream is stealing part of their water.

But I am not most people. Suspecting I was getting less than I had ordered, I have checked it out over several weeks. Always it is the same; a discretely half opened head gate is sending part of my stream to his reservoir. “The wheels of the (water) gods grind slow but exceeding fine,” and he’s about to get his comeuppance.

They take their stance. The water master speaks first, “What do you think you’re doing. Every week you order a foot of water. He orders a half foot for his reservoir. I turn a foot and a half into the ditch, and open up his head gate to give him his share. You come along and close his gate and steal his water.”

I stand stunned, processing this new scenario. Instinctively accountability kicks in. I say nothing.

“Don’t let it happen again.” The water master and the water thief/victim jump back into the car, throw it into reverse and burn rubber out to the street and away.

My mind grinds slow and not exceeding fine. I think, “I am a voiceless idiot. Why didn’t I say something?”

Later that night I call my neighbor and add to the evidence of my guilt by offering to give him some of my water. He says, “I don’t need your (bleep) water. I can take care of myself,” the implication being why don’t I do the same.

I go through several speeches I could have made. None of them would have solved the problem. They include to the water master, “Why didn’t you tell me that is what you were doing.” To which he would have said. “Everybody on the line but you knows how it works. You city slickers come out here and think you know everything.”

Or I could have said to my water neighbor. “What would you think if you found somebody tapping water out of your stream? I figured you were stealing my water.” To which he would have said. “You calling me a thief? You getter get a good grip on that shovel buddy. Nobody says that to me and gets away with it.”

The only response that might have worked would be, “Whoa, I am sorry. I didn’t know that’s how the system worked. I’m really embarrassed that I didn’t understand. I hope you will forgive me, and let me repay you the water that I took by mistake.”

They would have said, “You got that right Slick. You’re either stupid or lying. Don’t let it happen again.”

They might even have said, “Say aren’t you the same guy who stole chalk from Sister Haskell’s ward 56 years ago?”

OK, I’m paranoid. The trouble is, under pressure pride trumps accountability, and clogs my brain and my voice box. I’m working on the problem, along with a long list of other shortcomings I would just as soon keep quiet about.

Your next installment is: Learn a little

What do you think about this part of the book?
Everybody I know is busy, including me. Where are those golden years I was planning on of sitting on the back porch picking my guitar? So I will send just one little part of the book at a time. You can give it a quick read and tell me what you think if you would like.
I’ve slimmed that process down to two questions, and four strokes on the key board (six if you count “Reply” and “Send.”)
The questions are these:
“A” How much did you enjoy this?
“B” How much do you think a person who doesn’t know Duane Hiatt would enjoy this?
The rating is:
1. Glanced at it, printed it out and lined the bottom of the bird cage with it.
2. Sped-read it and filed it with my tax return receipts
3. Thought it was about as interesting as a well written obituary
4. Could have put it down, but didn’t want to
5. Couldn’t put it down. Put it in a magnetic frame and stuck it onto the fridge door
So your response would perhaps be A-4, B-3, (Or maybe A-5, B-5, but since that that would probably be from my mother and she has passed away, I’m expecting a minimum number of those.)
Also feel free to add comments if you like.
Also, also, feel free to forward this material to anyone you want to.