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The Living Room Me and society Whitewashing the fence
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Whitewashing the fence
Before I get to my question, let me start with an old joke:

 *    *    *    *

There's an old man who's very sad because it's springtime and his only son, who always used to help him break ground for his garden, is in jail. So the man writes his son a note:

"Dear Johnny, I wish you were here to help me start the garden like in old times, Love, Dad."

Two days later he gets a letter back:

"Dear Dad, Whatever you do, don't dig up the garden. That's where the bodies are buried."

The next morning the police come and spend hours in the garden digging for bodies. They don't find any. They apologize to the old man and leave.

That evening the father receives a second note, "
Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That's the best I could do under the circumstances. Love. Johnny"

 *    *    *    *

My question is, how is it that certain people manage to get others to do things for them, without anyone noticing?  (See also the discussion here.) It's not something that I aspire to personally, but I am often impressed by it.

Is it luck? Diabolical cleverness? Just the right kind of smile?

Do you know people like this?
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In the case of Tom Sawyer, it was diabolical cleverness. In some other cases it might be education, luck (having people proposing- they know you don’t like to ask) or temperament (you can’t do it on your own, you therefore need someone).

Here is a small reminder of the famous white fence passage of Mark Twain:

“He began to think of the fun he had planned for this day, and his sorrows multiplied. Soon the free boys would come tripping along on all sorts of delicious expeditions, and they would make a world of fun of him for having to work -- the very thought of it burnt him like fire. He got out his worldly wealth and examined it -- bits of toys, marbles, and trash; enough to buy an exchange of WORK, maybe, but not half enough to buy so much as half an hour of pure freedom. So he returned his straitened means to his pocket, and gave up the idea of trying to buy the boys. At this dark and hopeless moment an inspiration burst upon him! Nothing less than a great, magnificent inspiration.

Everyone knows Tom’s inspiration, and to turn this situation into his advantage required a deep understanding of his fellow kids. We should learn from him and must begin by understanding the people who surround us.

How can we help them, what are we/they good at, what is fun for whom and is not WORK?

And to finish on Tom’s masterpiece :

“Tom surveyed his last touch with the eye of an artist, then he gave his brush another gentle sweep and surveyed the result, as before. Ben ranged up alongside of him. Tom's mouth watered for the apple, but he stuck to his work. Ben said:

"Hello, old chap, you got to work, hey?"

Tom wheeled suddenly and said:

"Why, it's you, Ben! I warn't noticing."

"Say -- I'm going in a-swimming, I am. Don't you wish you could? But of course you'd druther WORK -- wouldn't you? Course you would!"

Tom contemplated the boy a bit, and said:

"What do you call work?"

"Why, ain't THAT work?"

Tom resumed his whitewashing, and answered care- lessly:

"Well, maybe it is, and maybe it ain't. All I know, is, it suits Tom Sawyer."

"Oh come, now, you don't mean to let on that you LIKE it?"

The brush continued to move.

"Like it? Well, I don't see why I oughtn't to like it. Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?"

That put the thing in a new light. Ben stopped nibbling his apple. Tom swept his brush daintily back and forth -- stepped back to note the effect -- added a touch here and there -- criticised the effect again -- Ben watching every move and getting more and more interested, more and more absorbed. Pres- ently he said:

"Say, Tom, let ME whitewash a little."

Tom considered, was about to consent; but he altered his mind:

"No -- no -- I reckon it wouldn't hardly do, Ben. You see, Aunt Polly's awful particular about this fence -- right here on the street, you know -- but if it was the back fence I wouldn't mind and SHE wouldn't. Yes, she's awful particular about this fence; it's got to be done very careful; I reckon there ain't one boy in a thousand, maybe two thousand, that can do it the way it's got to be done."

"No -- is that so? Oh come, now -- lemme just try. Only just a little -- I'd let YOU, if you was me, Tom."

"Ben, I'd like to, honest injun; but Aunt Polly -- well, Jim wanted to do it, but she wouldn't let him; Sid wanted to do it, and she wouldn't let Sid. Now don't you see how I'm fixed? If you was to tackle this fence and anything was to happen to it --"

"Oh, shucks, I'll be just as careful. Now lemme try. Say -- I'll give you the core of my apple."

"Well, here -- No, Ben, now don't. I'm afeard --"

"I'll give you ALL of it!"

Tom gave up the brush with reluctance in his face, but alacrity in his heart.”
Books Discussed
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain Library)
by Mark Twain


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