Will’s Wisdom

June 16th, 2011

Sure, it’s both simple and simplistic. Uncomplicated, even hokey. Unsophisticated, dated. But it rings true, then and now.

Will Rogers had his finger on the pulse of America, and we took what he had to say not wincing but grinning. Talking heads didn’t parse the words, the meaning was clear enough. Targets didn’t dispute being targets, the dead center bullseye was obvious enough.

Think about today’s politicians and the commentators and comedians who wear them out daily. Think they’d put a statue of any of them in the Capitol? They put one of Will Rogers in there.

Sure, what he said was simple. Simply true.

As published in The Daily News, June 17, 2011, and in The Memphis News, June 18-24, 2011

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I share a sense of humor with Gene the stockbroker. I look forward to his emails. Funny is funny, and what Gene sends me is sometimes spit-out-your-coffee funny. I hasten to add; they’re never about stock portfolios. They aren’t funny.

The other day, Gene sent me some Will Rogers quotes. As I mopped coffee from the recesses of my keyboard, I was struck with how dead on target somebody could be who’s been dead for 76 years. The beloved down-home philosopher died in an Alaska plane crash in 1935, but his observations of the American condition could have been made this morning.

Without any knowledge of the current bunch, having never met New York’s Congressman Weiner or Alaska’s Sarah Palin (who can probably see the Rogers crash site from her kitchen window), he said, “There’s no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.”

Before there was talk radio, he advised, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” Decades before TV and cable, before Al Gore’s Internet and Fox News, before Doppler Radar and Facebook, before facts got all blogged up and tweeted out, he observed, “Rumor travels faster, but it don’t stay put as long as truth.”

Or, “Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier ’n putting’ it back.”

Rogers might have been talking budget to Congress or our city council when he said, “If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.”

Or, “The quickest way to double your money is to fold it and put it back into your pocket.”

To mayors Wharton and Luttrell, “If you’re riding ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it’s still there.”

To the Tennessee Legislature, “There are three kinds of men: The ones that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence and find out for themselves.”

To all of us:

“Never slap a man who’s chewing tobacco.”

“Never kick a cow chip on a hot day.”

“Always drink upstream from the herd.”

To my fellow boomers:

“Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me; I want people to know why I look this way. I’ve traveled a long way, and some of the roads weren’t paved.”

“The older we get, the fewer things seem worth waiting in line for.”

“When you are dissatisfied and would like to go back to youth, think of Algebra.”

To my fellow golfers, “Long ago, when men cursed and beat the ground with sticks, it was called witchcraft. Today it’s called golf.”

And regarding that sense of humor, Rogers seems to share it, too, and agree with Gene and me that life requires it, “If you don’t learn to laugh at trouble, you won’t have anything to laugh at when you’re old.”

I’m a Memphian, and I’d like to thank Will Rogers for this column.


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