by Father Mark Goldasich
“C’mon, c’mon — it’s either one or the other.”
That’s the caption under an old Far Side cartoon that shows a devil with a pitchfork jammed into the back of a man standing before two doors: one labeled “Damned if you do”; the other, “Damned if you don’t.” It’s such a favorite of mine that I have it in a little frame in my office. Truer words were never spoken.
Anyone involved in leadership, education, writing or parenting has felt that prod of the devil’s pitchfork now and then. It’s the classic no-win situation.
The same point is driven home in a story about a couple — let’s call them Jack and Jill — who recently married. Jack was committed to having a marriage for the new millennium, where there were equal roles for equal partners.
With that in mind, the first morning back from their honeymoon, Jack brought Jill breakfast in bed. Jill was not impressed with his culinary skills. She looked down at the tray with disdain and growled, “Poached? I wanted a scrambled egg.”
Undaunted, the next morning, Jack brought his beloved a scrambled egg. Jill was having none of it and said, “Do you think I don’t like variety? I wanted poached this morning.”
Determined to please his true love the next morning, Jack thought, “Third time’s the charm,” and brought Jill two eggs — one scrambled and one poached.
“Ta-da! Here, my love,” Jack cooed. “Enjoy!”
Jill looked at the plate and sniffed, “You scrambled the wrong egg!”
Based on the above story, maybe we should modify the phrase today to simply say: “Damned . . . no matter what you do.” It’s wearying to read the Letters to the Editor section of the newspaper anymore. No one, it seems, can ever do anything right these days. At least in the newspaper, though, there is a diligent editor keeping things civil. Things are much worse on the Internet. People, it seems, will comment about anything on any site. And online, things can quickly devolve into a “vicious fest.”
Nobody, it seems, is safe from someone’s disapproval. On page 7 of this issue is a story about Pope Francis meeting at the Vatican with six people who experienced the trauma of clerical sexual abuse. Hard to argue with him doing that, right? Wrong. Some people complained that it took him long enough to finally get around to having this meeting with victims, while others said that it was merely a symbolic, worthless gesture that really won’t change anything and might do more harm to the victims than good.
Well, as always, Pope Francis did what his heart led him to do. He met with these victims, one on one, in private and with “no hurry . . . no clock watching.” Victims were free to tell their stories — or “whatever they wanted to say.” The pope, it was reported, listened intently. Contrary to the naysayers, the meeting was a turning point for many of the visitors.
Years ago, I remember Mother Teresa being criticized because she only dealt with the abandoned dying on the streets of Calcutta, but didn’t do anything to change the unjust system that put people in such dire straits. (I suspect the people she and the Missionaries of Charity took care of might offer a different story.) Besides faith, one of the things that I’m sure kept Mother Teresa going were the words posted on a wall in a children’s home run by the Missionaries. Although mistakenly attributed to Mother Teresa, those inspirational words were actually written by Dr. Kent M. Keith and are called “The Paradoxical Commandments.” (You can find the complete list online at: www.paradoxicalcommandments.com.)
Two of the more appropriate ones for here are:
• If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
• Give the world the best you have and you may get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best anyway.
You know, I bet that if God himself came down to earth, there would be some people, somewhere, that would find fault with him. Oh, wait, they did ….