In Which the Deputy Headmistress Contradicts Phyllis McGinley

Previous posts related to Mrs. McGinley’s poetry are here and here.

A Garland of Precepts

Though a seeker since my birth,
Here is all I’ve learned on earth,
This the gist of what I know:
Give advice and buy a foe.
Random truths are all I find
Stuck like burs about my mind.
Salve a blister. Burn a letter.
Do not wash a cashmere sweater.
Tell a tale but seldom twice.
Give a stone before advice.

And here the Deputy Headmistress reluctantly interrupts her mentor to nitpick. It is true that quite often to offer advice is to receive a foe. This seems to be particularly true when somebody has begged for advice. It’s even more true when the question is phrased something like this:

Friend: “You don’t think I need to be worried about my child telling lies, do you?”

Deputy Headmistress: “Yes. I do.”

Former Friend: “Oh, I don’t think so. My child is a wonderful person, so loving, so affectionate, so thoughtful of others. Telling little fibs here and there is a perfectly normal part of growing up. Why are you singling out my child like this?”

So yes, advice giving, especially when somebody asks for advice, is a situation fraught with peril for the unsuspecting. But some advice is so important it simply must be given.

Early in our marriage the Headmaster and I were the recipients of just such an unsolicited piece of advice. For some reason, rather than resenting it we heeded it, and because we took note of that advice, our lives in the military were much, much less complicated than those of most of our friends.

The Headmaster entered the armed services shortly before our first anniversary. We were young, dumb, and naive. At our church, a young couple with a little more time in the service took us under their wings and explained some military facts of life to us. The most important thing they said to us was, “Do not go into debt.”

They explained that because a military paycheck was so dependable, everybody would be eager to offer us credit. They also explained that even though it seemed that a monthly payment of ten dollars here and twenty dollars there wasn’t very much, it quickly added up and before we knew it our monthly paycheck would be spent before we could even cash it. They suggested we never even put things on lay-away.

I do not why we listened to that advice as well as we did, but we did pay attention, and we have never, ever regretted it. We only regret the few times we didn’t follow it. Because of that young couple, even our most foolish mistakes were rather tame compared to the financial blunders of many of our fellow military couples. While we did succomb to the siren call of easy credit once or twice, it was only once or twice, and we never used more than one source at a time, nor did we ever max out a credit card. We often lived from paycheck to paycheck, but we never had our paycheck portioned out to various credit companies before we actually got it each month.

I was reminded of this wonderful couple and their brilliant advice tonight while reading Hugh Hewitt’s book In, but Not Of. Chapter ten covers the same advice that couple gave to us. We have often passed it on to other couples. I would like to pass it on once more. Do not dig the credit hole for yourself. If you have already excavated such a hole, stop digging it deeper, and start getting out of debt now.

Hugh Hewitt says that interest charges are thieves living in your life and that debt is grease on the rungs above and below you in the ladder of life. We agree. Oh, how much we agree. Do not put more on your credit card than you can pay off at the end of the month. Do not portion out your paycheck to creditors in bits and dribbles here and there.

I know that nobody here asked for my advice, and I know that Mrs. McGinley gently warns against giving advice (query: was that itself unsolicited advice?), but that word of warning helped us so much that we must pass it on.

While on that topic, permit me to mention one other bit of advice nobody shared with us but which we could have benefitted from. If you can only afford to go out to eat on payday, then you cannot afford to go out to eat at all. You should not spend that money on eating out. If you can afford to go to a home party where a hostess is selling kitchen goods or make-up on payday but not in between paydays, then you cannot afford to buy anything at that home party at all. Truly.

Well, we now end our unsolicited advice and return you to the conclusion of Phyllis McGinley’s Garland of Precepts, a poem against giving advice:

Pressed for rules and verities,
All I recollect are these;
Feed a cold to starve a fever.
Argue with no true believer.
Think-too-long is never-act.
Scratch a myth and find a fact.
Stitch in times saves twenty stitches.
Give the rich, to please them, riches.
Give to love your hearth and hall.
But do not give advice at all.

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One Comment

  1. Posted July 27, 2007 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Amen! After 12+ years, my husband and I are just now beginning to dig ourselves out of debt – $20K worth! I wish it had never happened, but it was one of those vicious cycle things. I am going to do my best to ensure that my children never go into debt for anything other than their house and maybe a car.

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