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The late columnist Ann Landers is credited with saying: “At age 20, we worry about what others think of us. At age 40, we don’t care what they think of us. At age 60, we discover they haven’t been thinking of us at all.”

Her wisdom reminds us that as people age, they move away from the egocentric concerns of youth to the more realistic perceptions of midlife and beyond, who (shazam!) suddenly realize that they are not the center of the universe. As a result, the older adults with higher reasoning skills become largely free to do what they want, unrestricted by what they construe to be the opinions of others.

With this in mind I thought I’d share some of my observations about living in 2019 and the lessons that living 72 years (47 of which have been writing about the affairs, foibles, joys and disappointments of others) have taught me.

First, surround yourself with those who make you laugh and can laugh at themselves.

Remember, to anyone else, you are not the most important person. They are. Everything we share with another person is filtered through their own deeply personal lens of reality. For instance, should something wonderful happen to you and you joyfully decide to share it, expect to receive this kind of response (usually unspoken): “Gosh, I wish something like that would happen to me.”

I can only keep what I’m willing to give away. In other words, more heartfelt pleasure and enduring value for me lies in giving to others rather than in receiving. Very often, what we voluntarily give to others winds up coming back in unexpected enrichment to us.

As the end of this existence nears, all the material possessions we have accumulated lose their value. All the influence, homes, automobiles, furnishings and clothing collected across a lifetime funnels down to precious memories if we are able to cling to them. When my mother passed, it was in a small room with a family picture on her nightstand and a favorite picture of Christ on the wall.

While feelings of empathy and compassion are certainly important aspects of living together, our gift of higher reasoning that when focused enables us to separate truth from fiction and being played as useful idiots by the more self-seeking allows us to survive and create purposeful lives.

The competitive free enterprise system, despite imperfections which allow it to be misused if fair-minded rules are ignored, is the greatest economic engine ever devised by humans. It has allowed this nation to rise above all others in achievement and benevolence by freeing the human spirit in many ways to seek its highest potential.

The welfare system, which historians say aided greatly to the downfall the Roman Empire by creating a society that over decades became largely dependent on free grain supplied by the government, rewarded sloth and dependence rather than initiative and sense of purpose. While the idea might sounds noble on paper, it can be easily misused by unscrupulous politicians to garner votes. And it is bound to fail and collapse when a country and those with ambition who pay into the unbalanced public coffers invariably themselves fall into financial ruin.

The two best predictors of anyone succeeding in their undertakings are enthusiasm and patience. Far too many approach their goals passively and surrender at the first setback.

Life itself is about using our senses to learn. That doesn’t necessarily mean earning a college diploma. So many people find their deeper fulfillment in learning a productive and lucrative trade.

The best way to make a positive impression on others is not to spend your limited time trying to impress them with your knowledge and achievements. Rather, ask sincere questions about their experiences, then listen. Conversation means the ability to listen half the time and share the other. We never learn when we’re talking.

Because I agree with others’ views does not necessarily make their perspectives truthful. It’s a big mistake to listen only to those who share our worldview.

At the same time, others are continually assessing our trustworthiness by all we say and do. You are considered only as solid as your word. Once-admired qualities such as integrity, character and personal accountability are seldom taught in homes or schools today.

Faced with a new environment or an unfamiliar situation, it’s wise to watch, listen and learn for a while before jumping in with thoughts and opinions.

When I crave a slice of cheesecake, a single bite is usually enough to satisfy. It provides a mouthful of the flavor while allowing me to still feel good about myself for not wolfing down all that sugar and calories.

I’ve learned that my actions where another is concerned often set an expectation in them. That means I’d best be prepared to continue those actions. If I send a card to a favorite person each Friday for three weeks, they will naturally wonder what happened to keep the fourth from arriving.

The biggest cause of hard feelings between people is real or imagined disrespect. The perception of another person’s disrespect can’t help but trigger a reaction of resentment and anger toward them. Without respect at its core, no meaningful relationship can endure.

If we can count true friends on one hand at the end, we’ve lived a blessed life. Many times we become closer to true friends than we are to natural-born family members.

Our unique capacity to conceive of a divine Creator for this mysterious world and universe separates us from other life forms and reassures me this ability exists in humans for a reason.

And that’s all I know, valued readers.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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