Local Lifestyle

Saturday, Nov 24 2012 12:12 PM

HERB BENHAM: A holiday meal topic that goes well with pie

By The Bakersfield Californian

A friend texted me:

"Would you bail out a friend if you knew he was guilty?"

This was Monday, three days before Thanksgiving. We had had a conversation the night before at dinner about Thanksgiving topics. What do we talk about?

There was no shortage of possible subjects. It was more striking a balance between tranquility and liveliness. Taking aim at the sweet spot between peace and war.

Last Thanksgiving had its spirited moments, bookended by a ceasefire. Good thing for the wine. Thank goodness for the homemade pumpkin pie. Hard to hold a grudge when you're eating a piece of pumpkin pie.

Politics are tricky, religion dicey and sports are fine except that some people see the charm in them and others may not.

This is to say that, "Would you bail out a friend if you knew he was guilty," sounded like a subject on which everybody would have an opinion. It had a universal feel to it, universal and timeless. We've all been there. Most of us on both sides.

The question made me think of how we respond to beggars. Do you give money even though you suspect they may use it to buy a large bottle of strong alcohol?

If you're like me, you've gone back and forth.

The Stephen Covey in us wants to be effective and change the world, one panhandler at a time. Encourage people to overcome their demons.

Then, there is our less ambitious side. Stephen Covey, meet Lao Tzu. "He who conquers others is strong; he who conquers himself is mighty."

In other words, until we can keep the leaves raked in our backyards, it probably makes sense not to take on the yard down the street.

The third response is allowing ourselves a feel- good moment. A lightness of being that comes from giving. Giving and not overthinking.

"Would you bail somebody out if you knew they were guilty?"

This would depend on whether it was the first offense or one in a string of bailouts, where previous rescues have failed to move the needle.

"How well do you know this person?" I asked.

Not as well as she thought, she said. She admired what he did. That colored who she imagined he was.

This was not his first brush with the law nor his first transgression. After bailing him out -- spending several thousand dollars -- she discovered that she knew him less and less well. Each day brought fresh horror.

In "A River Runs Though It," the father (Tom Skerritt in the movie) says about his son (Brad Pitt), "I wanted to help, but my help was not wanted."

Assume the friend in trouble wants the help, but this may not be the right time for him to receive it. Lao Tzu, the anti-Stephen Covey of his day, addresses this when he says, "In action, be careful of your timing."

My friend bailed him out. There are worse things people could say about her than, "She was too generous. She believed in people. She believed that they could become better."

Either way, it's good dinner table conversation.

Especially when there is pie.

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