A while back, a messy problem loomed ahead. I don’t like confrontation. If that makes me less than a person, then consider me to be itty bitty. Life, I figure, is too short for squabbling. My motto is “whenever possible, step out of the way.”
Now, know this, less you think I’m a wimp — if it comes down to it and the need arises, fight I will. I won’t enjoy it, but if I must, I will stick to my ground.
“Let me tell you something, kid,” Daddy said once when I was squirming to avoid a disagreement. “You stand up for yourself and for your rights.” And then, of course, he quoted the Bible: “Be ye cold or hot, but if you are lukewarm, I will spew you from my mouth.”
“Just what,” I asked plaintively, “does that mean?”
“Choose a side. It’s despicable to see someone who is mealy mouthed and doesn’t stand for one side or the other.”
He’s right. I developed a philosophy that I stick to. I wrote about it in my first book in a chapter called “Choose Your Battles Carefully. If Custer had, He Wouldn’t Be Buried in The Middle of Nowhere.”
That’s what I do — I choose my battles. Is it something that will matter tomorrow? Will it matter six months from now? If it is something that will have a lasting effect, it’s something worth fighting.
As you’ve heard me say many times, I learned a lot of life’s lessons while working in NASCAR racing as first a sports writer then a publicist. I learned those formative lessons that you can’t learn from books or college but only from life itself. Lessons in risk taking, generosity, dream chasing, kindness and loyalty. I learned them from mentors with some of the most famous names in the sport for they were men who made their way and learned about life as they went.
For some reason, a piece of advice from Dale Earnhardt popped into my head recently. I don’t know why, for I hadn’t thought of it in years. And for that, I don’t know the reason either because it’s a doggone good piece of advice.
“When you see a wreck happenin’ in front of you,” he offered on a day when he was in a particularly good mood, the kind where he liked to share, “don’t let off of the accelerator. Keep your foot to the pedal and head straight for the center of the wreck.”
He grinned that most famous of grins, the one where he was completely confident in what he was saying. “By the time you get there, it’ll be gone.”
He paused a moment, tilted his head, squinted one eye. “If you swerve to miss it, you’ll hit something because by the time you get there, one of the other cars will have hit and drifted down to where you’re going and you’ll hit it. The center of the wreck will be clear by the time you get there and you can drive right through it.”
He smiled and gave a sure nod as though he was putting the period on that philosophy.
I had asked him, out of curiosity, why he seldom got caught up in a wreck. Earnhardt, it seemed, was charmed. He’d be coming out of a turn when suddenly a big pile-up started happening in front of him and, almost without exception, he’d slide through unscathed.
This genius racer had a brilliant answer. He didn’t try to avoid it. He drove straight toward it.
“Remember that,” he said, pulling a strand of my hair. “You might need to know that one day.”
“Right,” I replied with a bit of a sarcastic tone. “I’m sure I’ll use that one a lot.”
But you know what? Starting now, I’m gonna drive straight toward the wreck uh, the problem. No more swerving to avoid it.
Earnhardt was right — it’s useful information.