Article Date: 5/1/2004

lessons learned
What's Important?
Reflecting on other peoples' priorities and their most significant life lessons
By Jack Runniger, O.D.

What's the most important thing you've learned in life?" was a survey question a few years ago. As we say in the South, there are some "right good" lessons to be learned from many of the responses.

Some were serious:

► "The importance of love and family"

► The Golden Rule"

► "Wrong is wrong, even if everyone is doing it." I once heard a good example of this in a sermon.

A boy brought his pet rabbit to "show and tell" for his first grade class. "Is that a boy rabbit or a girl rabbit?" one of the other kids asked the teacher. Before she had a chance to reply, another one said, "I know how we can tell." The teacher became a little nervous, not knowing whether a birds-and-bees discussion was something she wanted to handle. But she was taken off the hook when the boy continued, "We can vote on it."

"The rightness of some things cannot be altered by voting, by saying it's okay because everyone is doing it," analyzed the preacher.

Looking on the light side

Some of the survey responses were more lighthearted:

► "Eat your veggies" -- Which reminded me of something comedian Alan King once related from his childhood.

"Eat your vegetables," said his father at the dinner table.

"Why?" asked King.

"Because they're good for you."

"Why are they good for me?"

"Because if you don't eat them, I'm gonna whop you over the head -- that's why they're good for you."

► "Make your own lunch." This brought back the memory of another supposedly true story.

Jim Bagby was a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians years ago. He spent the off season working at Lockheed. A fellow worker told of Bagby opening his lunchbox at noon one day.

"Another peanut butter sandwich!" complained Bagby with disgust. "I hate peanut butter and all I get is peanut butter sandwiches."

"Why don't you tell your wife so she'll fix something else?" the co-worker asked.

"Wouldn't do any good," replied Bagby. "I make my own lunch."


Grant me the serenity . . .

"You don't have to try to be number one in everything you do," would have been my survey answer, said Dr. Neal Bailey, former editor of Contact Lens Forum, who told me about the survey. "I've found that life is easier if you're satisfied with second place."

I liked this answer. And recently I found this from a book by psychology professor Barry Schwartz:

"Maximizers are people who will accept only the best possible result and never want to settle for second best. While this may sound like a good way to make choices, maximizers actually tend to be unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives."

Besides, everything is relative. If you lose a two-person race, you can always tell folks, "I almost won, and the other guy finished next to last."

Still trying

Although I haven't completely mastered any of these, the three main lessons my 80 years on this planet have taught me would be:

1. Cooperate with the inevitable. Adapt to things as they are rather than as you wish they were.

2. Don't sweat the small stuff.

3. Don't take yourself too seriously.

But perhaps the best answer about what's most important in life was given by the respondent whose answer read, "Breathe."

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


Optometric Management, Issue: May 2004