Tom Wheeler: Some forgotten words worth remembering these days

Tom Wheeler submitted this commentary prior to his death in Tucson, Arizona, on Friday. He was a long-time contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page in addition to being a well-known businessman, philanthropist, and community leader.

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Tom Wheeler

Some years ago, I wrote an op-ed on “the three r's” of “reading,” “'riting,” and “'rithmetic,” and I suggested a more contemporary variation of “responsibility,” “respect,” and “restraint.” These latter three words, seemingly more than ever, should be taught — if not "exampled."

This has since led me to think there are other forgotten words, or values, now out of vogue. How about “discipline,” “consequences,” “humility,” “commitment,” and “kindness?”

Words matter. Words describe feelings, actions, behaviors, and standards. Words may have positive or negative connotations to us or to society. As the world advances (perhaps a controversial choice in words), our lives get busier, and we seem to outgrow or discard prior patterns of behavior. We are told everything is new and different, and old stuff is irrelevant. It’s the current context of trying to be cool.

Yet human nature does not change. Words like “responsibility,” “respect,” and “restraint” still ring true. Society claims "rights." Are there not “responsibilities” that should accompany “rights?” “Responsibility” and its close cousin “accountability” are clearly lacking in too many of today's personal, business, and governmental endeavors.

“Respect” is another lost word. Consider “respect” with regard to parents, teachers, siblings, etc. Why has "dissing" replaced “respect?”


“Restraint.” How about stepping back and not just "me first?" Exhibit some “discipline” to say no and not charge ahead with selfish actions or desires.

Did you notice the word "discipline" there, another vanished value? Once upon a time, “discipline” was learned and/or exhibited at home via good parenting, in schools via good teaching, and in sports via good coaching. Regrettably, only the latter seems to have survived — and certainly not in every case. As a consequence, valuable life lessons are being lost.

Notice the reference there to "consequence." I love Robert Ingersoll's quote: "In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are only consequences." An unobservant gazelle becomes a lion's lunch. Too many people get away with too many things. This is particularly true with ineffective enforcement and criminal justice issues, plus with schools, government, or in business. There are too few “consequences;” as a result, we, too, become unobservant like the gazelle. Unacceptable behaviors persist.

How about “humility?” Yes, as Winston Churchill once sarcastically said, "You have a lot to be humble about." More seriously, being humble, not bragging, and being modest are indeed traits of a becoming behavior. Who would you rather be around, someone solely interested in themselves or in you?

How about “commitment?” It is truly a lost commodity. Marriage, business, and virtually all relationships exhibit a distinct lack of loyalty these days.

“Persistence” pays off, another valuable life lesson versus being a "grasshopper," or someone great on distance but hell on direction. Do you know anybody like that?

Finally and fittingly, there is “kindness.” I once heard a grandparent advise a young athlete who was incensed at an opponent's behavior, "Kill them with kindness!" How powerful is that? Above all, as Dennis Anderson used to so aptly say in signing off his his newcasts, “Be kind."

Tom Wheeler was a longtime Duluth-area businessman, civic leader, and philanthropist. Retired, he split his time between Duluth and Tucson, Ariz., and was a longtime regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page. He submitted this prior to his death in Tucson on Friday, June 26.

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