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The Truth, Mainly - 12/02/1996

Making the No-Sweat List: Blind luch or good judgment?

In his Thanksgiving column about ways to give thanks, Robert Valentine suggested it's unseemly to count our blessings, then say "Look at me. Look at what I have achieved."

That hurt. I sort of like calling attention to my success.

Not that I'm the kind of person Donald Trump would walk across the room to shake the hand of. No, my success is more austere, more subtle, less showy than the success of the people on that list Forbes Magazine publishes.

My success is in living a stress-free life. I like to imagine that if some magazine with a laid-back name like Hanging Out came up with a Top Ten No-Sweat List, I'd be on it. Maybe not at the top, but close.

And here's my post-Thanksgiving confession: I've always thought—and often told others—that I would make a hypothetical Top Ten No-Sweat List through my own efforts. "Look at me," I think I might have said. "Look at what I have achieved."

Let me offer evidence:

I had the great good sense to choose 1934 as the year of my birth. That allows me to avoid the stress of buying things. When my wife wants me to spend money, I look wounded and explain that I was a Depression Baby.

"I imbibed frugality with mother's milk," I say when my wife tells me I need a new sports jacket. "It wouldn't be right to indulge myself with foppish fripperies."

"Are you trying to sound like W.C. Fields?" she says. Then she reminds me that 1934 was the worst year of the Dust Bowl and that the southwest Kansas dirt I inhaled in the crib permanently muddied my thinking.

You know what I say when she says that? I say "So's your old man."

Being born in 1934 was a wise choice for lots of other No-Sweat reasons:

•I was too young to be drafted in WWII, too old to be drafted during the Vietnam War.

•I was only 16 when the Korean War started. Oh sure, I was 19 before it ended, but I was a freshman then at Kansas State Teachers College, the school with cheap tuition and realistic academic expectations, and I had a patriotic duty to get educated. Besides, I did go into the army in 1954 just after the war ended and just before they cut off the GI Bill of Rights that would help pay my way through school, so it all worked out. I served in the European Theater (mostly the Rialto Deutschland in Munich), so nobody could accuse me of dodging the draft. But nobody shot at me either. I understand that being shot at causes stress.

•I got to begin my teaching career during a teacher shortage; I was hired in 1960 with academic credentials that might qualify me to mow grass on campus today.

•I came of house-buying age when house prices were about right—$12,800 for our first one in 1963; $13,000 for the one we moved up to in 1970. I am wickedly proud to say we still live there.

The Truth, Mainly


•As a Depression Baby, I'll get my Social Security and Medicare before the Baby Boomers swamp the boat.

So it was a wise choice to be born in 1934. I worry about my kids' questionable judgment in deciding on 1959, 1961, and 1964, and my grandkids' reckless decisions to go for 1991, 1992, and 1995.

But even smarter than being born in 1934 was what I took the initiative to be born as. White, male, and straight.

Being white has meant being nicely sheltered, figuratively speaking, from lots of stress. I've never been bopped on the head for eating at a lunch counter, never been asked to recite the Constitution before I could register to vote, never been beaten up by authorities I offended by saying that I didn't like being beaten up.

Being male has meant making more money than my female colleagues doing the same work. It's meant a division of family labor whereby I do things around the house I like to do (some cooking, building fires, driving my old pickup to the dump) while my wife does the rest (paying bills—high stress work for me—bathing the dog, doing the laundry, swabbing the toilets, and so on).

Being straight has meant that to get a job or rent a house or keep from getting a dishonorable discharge, I didn't have to pretend to have sexual preferences I didn't have. It's meant that I wasn't legally prohibited from marrying who I wanted to marry. It's meant that I haven't been called an abomination, and it's meant that on those rare occasions I've been mistreated, I could complain without anyone accusing me of wanting "special rights."

Choosing to be born white, male, and straight was a key decision in my deserving to make the No-Sweat List, so why shouldn't I say "Look at me. Look at what I've achieved"?

And if any cynics out there are muttering that it's all been blind luck, do you know what I say to them?


Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes to salvage meaning from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays.


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