Article Date: 4/1/2004

lessons learned
Curmudgeons Are My Heroes
Those who say what they think can give the rest of us a vicarious thrill.
By Jack Runniger, O.D.

As I increase in age, if not in wisdom, I find that my heroes are curmudgeons who tell things as they are, rather than worrying about being politically correct. The archaic definition of a curmudgeon is "An ill-tempered, churlish old man." That is perhaps true as it relates to me, but I much prefer the modern definition, "Anyone who hates hypocrisy and pretense, and has the temerity to say so."

Joining the curmudgeons is one of the few benefits of getting old. Maybe I told before about a retired friend who said, "There are three differences in being retired. Two of them are bad but the other one makes up for them.

"First, I no longer have a secretary to do all my work for me. That's bad. Second, I no longer have an expense account. And that's bad. But third, I don't have to be nice to a single S.O.B. if I don't want to!"


Finding the middle ground

"You talk too much," may be a true appraisal of your patient Mrs. Tess Tosterone, but telling her so is hardly the way to build good patient rapport. On the other hand, I do believe that patients can detect insincerity, so you need to strike a happy balance between curmudgeonry and sugar coating.

Following are some of the curmudgeons I've come to admire, together with a sample of their statements:

"The trouble with this country is that there are too many people going about saying, 'The trouble with this country is . . .'" ­ Sinclair Lewis

"If you think health care is expensive now, just wait until it's free." ­ P.J. O'Rourke

"The average dog is nicer than the average person." ­ Andy Rooney. In response I'd say, "Maybe so. But at least the average person doesn't defecate in my front yard."

"The word 'meaningful' when used today is nearly always meaningless." ­ Paul Johnson.

"A good listener is usually thinking about something else." ­ Kim Hubbard.

You never can tell

Even some folks you'd never suspect of being curmudgeons are sometimes guilty:

Abraham Lincoln: "He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas of any man I ever met."

Ronald Reagan: "The government is like a baby's alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end, and no responsibility at the other."

"Mr. 'X' is his own worst enemy," someone once said to Rudolph Bing, then manager of the Metropolitan Opera. "Not while I'm living he's not!" replied Bing.

One bad boy

Perhaps the finest curmudgeon of all was Robert Benchley. At one terrible theater performance, the actress, playing a native girl, recited, "Me Luna. Me good girl. Me stay." At which Benchley, a critic at the time, arose from his seat and announced as he left the theatre, "Me Bobby. Me bad boy. Me go."

It just goes to show

As much as I admire these and other curmudgeons, I can't become a full-fledged member of their ranks because I often don't have the guts to say what I think.

"I'm a self-made man," bragged a man who thinks a little too much of himself. Much as I wanted to, I couldn't find the nerve to reply, "Just shows what you get when you combine a lousy architect with inferior building materials." 

Jack Runniger, our consulting editor, lives in Rome, GA.  He's also a past editor of OM. Contact him at

Optometric Management, Issue: April 2004