A Word

Column: Ever the Twain by Jacqueline Alexander
First published in the Henley Standard newspaper

It is impossible to please all of the people all of the time. It is also impossible for just one person to please just one other person all of the time. We may want to and we may try to but, for some reason, it just can't be done.

This was reconfirmed to me as I was looking through a website dedicated to Mark Twain, the American author, satirist and lecturer. Having been a fan of Twain's wit and insight for many years, I found myself feeling slightly irked and very protective of my nation's reputation when I read a quote from the great man.

"An Englishman is a person who does things because they have been done before. An American is a person who does things because they haven't been done before."

Although briefly tempted to revise my opinion of Twain's aforementioned attributes, I decided to try to gain some perspective - and maybe stop being over-sensitive to criticism of my country (especially as there is a lot of it around at the moment).

Mark Twain died 100 years ago in 1910 but he left a rich legacy behind in the form of the written word which is still enjoyed the world over. Many websites feature quotes from his works - his observations are as sharp as his wit - but one site has taken this to another level.

Positivityblog.com could easily be lost in the plethora of sites dedicated to making us feel that life is a bowl of roses and, when it's not, telling us that we can make it better. Personally, I reserve the right to wake up with a feeling of pending doom and indulge it until either sleep or alcohol (or both) make it go away. Luckily, this doesn't happen often but, when it does, the last thing I need is some perky person pointing out the practicalities of positive thinking.

That said, this site has an interesting twist on the words of Twain. Taking just nine of his quotes, the author of this blog, Henrik Edberg, has produced "Mark Twain's Top 9 Tips for Living a Kick-A** Life" and it's really rather good, I could even be tempted to read it when that pending doom pays a visit.

There is not room to include all nine so I have selected my top three but I recommend you go along to Positivityblog.com and take a look as choosing a top three was quite a challenge.

Drag your thoughts away from your troubles... by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.

A recent advertisement campaign for the MacMillan cancer support charity used the line "Today is a good day. Today wasn't all about cancer". It is difficult to think of a better example of dragging your thoughts away from your troubles but it's a great concept and it can work - for problems of all sizes.

Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.

This quote is basically asking us to lighten up and find the funny side of any given situation. This one can take time and practice but it is difficult to find a better approach to most situations. Mr Edberg advises that humour helps us relax while Twain says that it is "mankind's greatest blessing".

Lastly, in the spirit of saving the best 'til last, here's the one that needs no explanation.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Next: A conflict of interest

Audio: Jacqueline Alexander presents Web Watch with Phil Kennedy on BBC Berkshire and BBC Oxford:

Copyright: Jacqueline Alexander 2012

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