A Sideways Glance with Richard Bogartz: The prince and the mud puddle

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

I’ve been reading Oscar Wilde’s collected works. Today’s tale would be rich, colorful and profound had he written it. Alas, instead, I found it scratched on a deerskin, under a rock in the Amethyst Brook recreation area. Or, I made it up. I forget which.

Once, in a land that almost never was, there lived a kind, generous, brave, brilliant, strong, loving monarch, Queen Grith, and her equally strong, careful, thoughtful, considerate, attentive, industrious husband, King Garth, together with their bright, shining son, 8-year-old Horvath. Rather than being corrupted by power, these royals steadfastly enhanced the welfare and happiness of the queendom’s people.

Every civilian or military official, every business person, and every labor leader, knew that proposals for change that failed to prioritize the welfare of the people were doomed to rejection and incandescent display in the royal fireplace. Public utilities existed to provide resources for the people at the lowest cost, without individual or group profit inflating those costs. Likewise, insurance was structured completely in terms of protecting people and not to stuff the coffers of investors.

The queen and king were almost totally harmonious in their approaches to royal work. Both rejected pomp and puffery. Both demanded scrupulous honesty in all presentations to the people, especially in advertising. Subscribing to transparency, the universally beloved Queen and King readily admitted their mistakes and elaborated what they had learned from them and the precautions they would be taking to avoid such mistakes in the future.

Now lest the reader’s credulity be strained, note that on rare occasions even this improbable royal duo, loving one another so much and sharing goals as they did, would occasionally disagree. As you can imagine, when the disagreement was not readily resolved, two such strong persons could generate a boisterous, sometimes tumultuous, conflict. They argued, fought, shouted, screamed, and, albeit safely, threw objects. Remarks impugning sanity were hurled, as were soft rubber dishes specially designed for royal turmoil. Often, commitment to transparency moved the event to the soccer stadium and the citizenry were treated to a display of conflict royale.

Usually, spirit being willing but flesh weak, sooner or later someone called for a truce. In the struggle of interest to us, King Garth called for a truce so he could rest and calm down by taking Prince Horvath for a walk. The prince was summoned from the royal library, his customary retreat when royal strife arose. Informed of the king’s need for his calming companionship, Horvath immediately complied.

At first, they walked hand in hand, speaking of whatever came to mind except royal squabble. After a bit, hearing an odd sound, the prince released the king’s hand and walked ahead. The path through the woods curved and by the time King Garth rounded the bend, there was Horvath, jumping up and down in a mud puddle, shouting “Why did this have to happen to me? Why is all this mud decorating my new yoga pants?” Continued jumping produced, “Look! Now the pants are so spattered I can hardly see the silk,” followed by still more jumping, shouting, and bemoaning.

King Garth, recognizing a teachable moment, offered his hand to the prince. Horvath took hold and stepped out. “My son, on life’s path, mud puddles are inevitable. Sometimes, we fail to see them in time. That’s life. The trick is knowing proper procedure when you land in one. You can, as you did, jump up and down repeatedly, bemoaning your lot and covering yourself with more and more mud. Or, you can step out the moment you realize you’re in mud. Stepping out is best. It is the spatter-minimizing move.”

The prince, a quick study, immediately understood that the king’s reasoning applied well beyond mud puddles. Negative stuff happens. Instead of amplifying the negativity by dwelling in it, step out.

Quietly the two returned from the woods. Then, as the stadium came into view, Prince Horvath asked, “Can you and mom get out of your mud puddle?” The king smiled, delighted that the prince had absorbed the lesson. “Yes, mud is flying. Sometimes, the right path is muddy. Your mother advocates spending the entire purity budget on incentivizing the return of farms that grow more than only corn, so the river of pig production flooding our queendom with seductive bacon can recede. I applaud the goal but see more important purities to support, public showers being only one of them.”

Horvath replied, “I predict you will both need showers. I hope modesty outweighs transparency.”

Richard S. Bogartz is professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.