Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

July 29, 2007

Politicians and preachers love this good story about a mule


Politicians and preachers are skillful at fence-straddling. This is the art of appearing to support both sides of an issue so that neither side is offended.
         Those who are effective in pulling this off use both hands when speaking. They say, "On the one hand, blah, blah, blah, and on the other hand, blah, blah, blah." The air is clouded with platitudes. The listener finds it hard to distinguish between lies and the truth.
         The odd thing is that the fence-straddlers seldom have disagreements with the people they are serving. Instead they have conversations which leave people puzzled about what side, if any, the fence-straddlers are on.
         The fence-straddlers walk away from these discussions with a sigh of relief if no one has challenged them to take a stand. The last thing they want to do is to offend someone by expressing a strong conviction about an issue. They have embraced the "Rodney King Attitude": "Why can't we all just get along?"
         Take a strong stand as a politician or a preacher and you face certain risks. One is that you can easily put your foot in your mouth. This happens when any of us talk without thinking clearly, or when we feel obliged to offer an opinion on every subject. Years ago it helped me to realize that the public is not waiting with baited breath to hear my opinions about anything.
         Sometimes it is best to wait a day or two before answering a question. You can simply say, "I don't know but I will look into the matter and get back to you." Speak out forcefully on an issue and you soon reveal not only your convictions but your ignorance as well. And there are subjects on which all of us are painfully ignorant. None of us knows everything about anything.
         Another risk you take when taking a stand is that people will disagree with you and not always agreeably. Some persons will disagree with you vigorously, even to the point of ending friendship and criticizing you. This can be very painful since we want others to respect us even when we disagree on certain issues.
         This brings me to an old story which may shed light on how we can handle criticism wisely. An old mule fell into a farmer's well. Hearing the mule braying, the farmer discovered the mule’s plight. He soon concluded he could not possibly retrieve the mule from the well. Both the mule and the well were old and not worth saving. So the farmer decided the most merciful thing he could do would be to throw dirt on the mule and bury him in the well.
         But a strange thing happened. As each shovelful of dirt fell on the old mule's back, he shook it off, allowing it to get under his feet. It was not long before the old mule, exhausted and dirty, walked right out of that well. What was intended to bury him actually blessed him, all because of his attitude in the face of adversity.
         Politicians and preachers can learn a valuable lesson from that old mule. When we take a courageous stand for what we believe is right, we risk having the opposition throw dirt on us. But we can be wise enough to throw the dirt off ourselves, stand on it, and walk out of the criticism with a positive attitude.
         Personally I would rather deal with a little dirt now and then than to spend my life straddling fences. Having grown up on a farm I know how dangerous fence-straddling can be. But it is a choice each of us must make, and for politicians and preachers, it is seldom an easy decision. People may think you are as stubborn as an old mule, but you would be wise to follow the example of the old mule in this good story. + + +