Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee
The Greeks had Plato and Socrates giving rise to Classical thought. The French had Sartre and Camus’ existentialism. The Germans had Kant and Schopenhauer's transcendental idealism. But, America has always been noted for its pragmatism, which is probably best reflected in the philosophy of Dewey, Pierce or James.
However, one of the Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, certainly embodied that practical sense when he fashioned Poor Richard’s Almanack. It proposed witty sayings that guided individuals through their journey in life. We have often heard these sayings presented to us as a means to motivate us toward success.
During our reckless attempt to finish a task early, we may have heard, “Haste makes waste.” And, of course, if we wished to succeed, remember, “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” We find little sayings tacked to the refrigerator or a cabinet as a constant challenge to our tendencies to take the easy way or to avoid the necessary pain involved in accomplishing a task. One saying from Poor Richard’s Almanack that I discovered as a play on the Gospel is “Love your enemies, for they will tell you your faults.” I have always been grateful that my friends never hesitated to be my chief critics; so I never had to wait for my enemies to speak.
But, for many of us, before encountering the philosophers or Founding Fathers, we were confronted with the sagacity of our parents who, being Americans, often embodied a pearl of practical wisdom. I am sure they passed on the wisdom accumulated through the experience of generations.
Some of these sayings will resonate with your personal experiences, and perhaps you can add your own to this list, which of course only scratches the surface of the practical wisdom of our parents and families.
When I was feeling a little lazy and wanted to kick the can down the road, I would hear, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” I have found that wisdom beneficial, especially when unexpected situations have invaded my life. At least, it did not add to more work.
When I had work to do or complained about the job, I would hear my father say, “Hey, there are no free lunches.” As I grew up, I thought this one funny, since my dad owned a tavern and there were often free lunches there. I failed to take into account the fact that someone was paying for the beer.
My family members always lived within their means; so, when a person extended themselves beyond their economic capacity, an uncle or aunt would declare, “Champagne tastes, but Pepsi cola money.” I think that was the realist in my family, who also learned to appreciate the importance of relationships over things.
At certain times, and I know this may seem strange, we could be a bit goofy as kids, laughing over nothing and just being silly. My mother would say, “Laugh today, cry tomorrow.” It was a type of practical equilibrium to have everything in life balanced out. I have experienced this in the way Midwesterners treat the weather. If there is a particularly beautiful sunny day in summer, a Midwesterner will say, “Oh! We will pay for this,” envisioning that winter is just around the corner. I don’t think they express that in San Diego.
Perhaps my favorite expression, and I know many have been confronted with this one, is when pleading a case for permission to do something or justifying a potential action because some friend or student did it: “If your friend were to jump off a building [fill in whatever your parent used: perhaps pier, bridge, airplane, etc.], would you follow him?” The wisdom of the parent using the lemming effect presents a blind and mindless following. There is practical wisdom in the words of our parents, and many of us were blessed to have been exposed to them. At times, we even followed their advice.
A saying I would like to leave with our LOA community is “The family that prays together, stays together,” especially if they LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Note: This blog originally appeared as the June 23, 2020, "Love One Another" email sent to Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. If you are interested in signing up for these email messages, please click here.