Carl Mays: Remember: ‘Only God can shape a flower ...’

Dec. 15, 2012 @ 12:59 AM

Former President Ronald Reagan told of an occasion when he was governor of California and spoke in Mexico City: “After I had finished speaking, I sat down to rather unenthusiastic applause, and I was a little embarrassed. The speaker who followed me spoke in Spanish – which I didn’t understand – and he was being applauded after about every paragraph. To hide my embarrassment, I started clapping before everyone else and longer than anyone else – until our ambassador leaned over and said, ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you. He’s interpreting your speech.’”

I thought of President Reagan, his great self-deprecating humor and his “Spanish” story today as I prepared to write this column. Quite a while back, I jotted down some notes for the column, but those notes kept getting pushed to the back of a “do later” folder. However, after having received at least a half-dozen spam e-mail messages this week encouraging me to “Impress your friends by learning a new language in just a few short days,” I decided to transfer the notes into a column about this type of ongoing advertising.

What I’m talking about here are the various advertisements in print and electronic media that send such messages as, “Be the envy of your neighborhood with this new... (you name it).” Or consider the one that emphasizes something like, “All of your friends will be jealous when they see you with ... (you name it.)” And then there abounds the constant, “Impress everyone with... (you name it).” During the Christmas season, we are bombarded, with such promises as, “She’ll love you when you give her... (you name it.)”

Since advertising companies spend millions of dollars on research to determine what makes people buy and why we buy what we do, there must be solid statistical reasoning behind this encouragement to acquire something (preferably the latest) to create envy or jealously in others – or to impress others – or to gain the favor or love of others. Of course, the trend is nothing new, just ever-growing. Maybe it is as Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich said, “In a consumer society, there are two types of slaves, the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy.” Humorist Erma Bombeck understood this when she wrote, “In general, my children refuse to eat anything that hasn’t danced on television.”

A while back, a teenager told me that he seemed to have different likes and dislikes than some of the older guys on his football team, but at the same time he felt good about who he was and what his interests and wants were. He said that even though a few guys sort of teased and picked at him, he felt good enough about himself to shrug it off. This was a solid guy – a good student, a good athlete and just an all-around good person. I assume that is why he was very popular with the large majority of students.

It was obvious to me the young man did things because he liked them. He believed in things because he had good reasons to believe in them, and he was building his life not to create envy or jealousy or to impress others. To help him on his chosen journey, I printed and gave to him a quote from one of my mentors, speaker/author Og Mandino:

“Never allow anyone to rain on your parade and cast a pall of gloom and defeat for the entire day. Remember that no talent, no self-denial, no brains, no character are required to set up in the fault-finding business. Nothing external can have any power over you unless you permit it. Your time is too precious to be sacrificed in wasted days combating the menial forces of hate, jealousy and envy. Guard your fragile life carefully. Only God can shape a flower, but any foolish child can pull it to pieces.”

© 2012 by Carl Mays, National Speakers Association Hall of Fame member and author, whose mentoring site is based on his “A Strategy For Winning” book and program. Contact or view