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Never understimate the good effect of a bad example
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By Stephen W. Browne
July 12, 2013 11:21 a.m.



A little while ago my son and I were talking late one night and the subject of Jack, an old acquaintance of mine came up. Apropos of what I can’t recall.

I told my son this guy was a bombastic braggart with no solid accomplishments to his name. Though highly intelligent and quite well-read he couldn’t, or wouldn’t hold down a job.

He sponged off friends and was a fine example of what I call the “third time deadbeat.” Meaning he’d borrow a small amount of money from you and scrupulously pay it back – twice. The third time he’d borrow a significant amount which you’d never see again.

He also liked to borrow things, and if you let him he’d take it as permission to borrow them any time thereafter without asking.

If you held on to your stuff, he’d sneer at you for your materialism. (He fancied himself a spiritual guru, which made up part of his disdain for work.)

There were all kinds of things he was going to do, eventually. At one time he was going to start a computer shop, and explained to anyone who’d listen how easy it was going to be to talk a bank into lending him the money. With no collateral. Or a business plan. Or a co-signer.

I have no idea if he actually tried it, though it wouldn’t surprise me.

He had an ex-wife who’d wised up to him too late, after having two beautiful daughters he never even attempted to support. He later had another child with a woman who supported him for years before she finally kicked him out.

Last I heard of him he’d died in his sleep in a rented room somewhere, alone at the end.

Stated baldly this sounds really damning, but in fact he was a charming fellow and good enough company to spend the price of a sandwich and a beer on. If he insisted on ego strokes about the wonderfulness of himself, he was just as willing to stroke your ego with praise of how wonderful you were.

Though as I put it, “We are all of us a little poorer for having known Jack,” he didn’t leave a trail of broken souls in his wake, nor did he sponge more than anyone could afford as the price of the lesson.

A mutual friend, a research psychologist, and I believed we had identified in him and a few others like him a hitherto-undiagnosed personality disorder we called “Bandar-loggia,” after Rudyard Kipling’s Bandar-log, the monkey people of “The Jungle Book.”

“Here we sit in a branchy row,

Thinking of beautiful things we know:

Dreaming of deeds that we mean to do,

All complete in a minute or two-“

Right about this time my son, who is young but wasn’t born yesterday, said, “What a creep!” or words to that effect.

“I will always be grateful to him,” I replied.

“??????” my son said.

What I told him was that that could have been me. Jack was a very intelligent guy. Well so am I, and so is my son.

Jack very well might have been told as a boy how smart he was, and how he would accomplish great things someday.

But he didn’t. He became in the words of a friend, “Not a ne’er do well, but a ne’er do at all.”

And in the end he served me very well indeed, as an example of what I did not want to be.

“Accomplishments? I don’t gotta show you no steenking acomplishments. I’m really smart!”

Calvin Coolidge, possibly our most underrated president put it, “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

So thanks Jack, wherever you may be, from me and my son.

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