By Ben Killingsworth
You don’t get to be 82 years old without learning, often the hard way, that life is full of ups and downs. It could be as early as kindergarten when someone you really liked didn’t give you a Valentine’s Day card, or in high school when you realized that tomorrw was the beginning of summer vacation.
And, if you were one of us who had the privilege of serving in the armed forces, you probably remember what a bummer that first day in boot camp was, along with the joy you felt when you were handed your discharge papers — honorable, I hope.
Along the way you acquired friendships that gave your life true meaning, but made a few enemies, too. Fortunately, most of us can’t remember who our enemies of the past were, but will never forget our friends, past and present.
In simple terms, we win some and we lose some, or, as my dad used to say, “Sometimes you can’t win for losin’.”
As I remember, he used that term most often when we were playing poker, something my family and friends loved to do. It was a lot cheaper than going out to dinner, and a lot more fun. It also taught us that, indeed, you don’t always win, but it can be a lot of fun trying.
In many ways, living in a small town like Idyllwild makes it a lot easier to identify the winners and the losers because we probably know them — as friends, or sometimes as enemies. Not enemies, in the usual sense of the word, but more accurately as someone who doesn’t particularly like us. The way it might have been in kindergarten.
Idyllwild winners and losers are usually some sort of volunteers who started out with the mistaken idea that everybody would learn to think how swell they are, but soon learned that people aren’t like that. Not to say they’re bad; they’re just human, which can explain a lot.
One of life’s lessons I learned along those lines was when I was assigned to my first command as a California Highway Patrol captain, way back in 1971. It was called the “San Diego Area” and consisted of 185 traffic officers, 15 sergeants, four lieutenants and a supporting staff, which brought the total to about 260 people.
It was the largest area office in the state and had gone through some rough times just before I arrived. Naturally, I was thrilled to be given the assignment, and was confident that I could solve all of the problems with ease.
Out of that experience I learned two things that I have never forgotten. The first is that if you can satisfy half of the people affected by a decision you make, you’re doing good.
The second was the result of a survey I took regarding morale, brought on by listening to so many people saying how bad morale was. The survey asked two questions.
First, on a scale of one to 10, how would you rate the morale of the San Diego Area? Secondly, also on a scale of one to 10, how would you rate your own morale?
Well, surprise of surprises, the average score regarding everybody’s morale was pretty low, but the average score regarding each individual’s morale was quite high. Pure and simple, the perception that morale, as whole, was low, was completely wrong.
Once the results of the survey were announced, I never heard another complaint about “morale.”
What I learned from this is that something that appears to be a negative might turn out to be positive once you’ve learned the facts.
I also learned to always be skeptical when someone tells me what everybody, or the community, thinks.
So, like my dad used to say, “I’ll see your nickel and raise you a dime.” He was bluffing, of course, but it was still cheaper than eating out.