Doing, not saying

Living long enough should mean learning a few things.

Single-parenting two children as they morph into teenagers requires the ability to boil down what you've learned, so you can impart your wisdom to your kids in brief, pithy phrases. If you're longwinded, your teens will tune you out. In fact, they won't always listen even if you're short-winded. But pithy is better than meandering where teens are concerned.

The thing I repeatedly told my two daughters was: Never - that's never - judge a person by what they say. Judge them by what they do.

There are many, many people in our city and country right now who spend a lot of time talking about God and goodness.

But just going to a nice, brick building once a week with a bunch of other self-congratulators isn't godly to me. Now, I'm not against church as a social setting; go with my bless-ings, my children. But if you want me to think the God thing has taken with you, do something for the poor, the homeless or the disenfranchised.

There are also a lot of folks talking a lot of smack about patriotism nowadays. They're waving flags while their oversized, gas-guzzling vehicles are displaying ribbons.

The scene I liked best in Michael Moore's overrated, overestimated-by-some and overhated-by-others "Fahrenheit 9/11" was the one where Fatso lurked outside Congress asking the boys and girls in suits how many of their children were serving in Iraq.

I can't help but laugh when George W. Bush talks about war, since all he's ever known was a well-padded, well-protected peace. Ditto Cheney and Rumsfeld. These guys can talk tough from behind their squadrons of bodyguards, but they aren't tough; they're merely powerful.

I wasn't a huge fan of John Kerry's, but I listened when he talked about war, because he'd been there.

I think one of the reasons the Sonics have surprised everybody this year - nobody more than me - is that Nate McMillan (who I once thought should be fired) finally learned that he is now a coach, not a player. But one of the reasons he can coach, and get results from his group of often-immature giants, is that he played. Even George Karl, having another successful career stop in Denver, was a player (although he might not look it now).

Not all players make great coaches, but some do. I don't want some tactician who can play only on paper telling Ray Allen what to do. Doesn't make any sense to me.

I read a lot of so-called literary fiction. But the only critic-reviewers I take seriously are John Updike and, sometimes, Gore Vidal. Why? Because both of these gentlemen wrote and published novels, short stories, plays and even teleplays in Vidal's case.

I can't tell you how many bad reviews I've read by college professors whose only writing is academic. They discuss books as if they were term papers. They are hopeless.

I listen when my friends at the P-I critique the Times. I boil when some guy whose only writing is an e-mail to the sports department, or a badly written recommendation letter for some former employee, talks about what's wrong with this article or that feature.

As I grow older, I admire the doers more and more.

Opinions, I've come to agree with the folk-wisdomers, are like a certain body part at the back of our nether regions: everybody's got one.

Now all this might seem like a strange opinion for a columnist - whose livelihood is after all, opinions - to hold dear. But there it is.

Which leads me to the second thing I always tell my kids:

Nothing, and nobody is as simple as it or they seem.

Everything and everybody is gray.

Everybody knows why we should or shouldn't be in Iraq. It is as black-and-white an issue as we have on the public-discourse menu these days. Unfortunately neither side seems to have any of the real answers, which is why people resort to screaming when the topic of the war comes up.

Ditto for abortions. Felons voting. The Mariners' endless-seeming slide.

And it isn't just the big subjects that are confusingly complicated.

For example, I almost always slip a little change to the homeless guys I recognize as I meander around Lower Queen Anne. I make eye contact and speak to the Real Change sales guys outside Larry's. I truly have been down and out (in my youth), and so I don't feel better (or any worse) than anybody else at a certain human level.

But all this social tolerance goes by the boards if a homeless dude is violently aggressive with his panhandling. I've stopped more than once to have the "discussion" despite the efforts of my friends and children to move me out of the area.

But I truly believe in most cases - since most of these guys don't freeze to death, don't walk in front of cars and don't talk gibberish - that they know the difference between panhandling and verbally assaulting. It's a social gray area that almost everyone I know paints either white - "those poor men (mostly) are victims of an unjust society, or a fatal toxicity connected to barley, corn and grapes" - or black: "they are all worthless bums and freeloaders who should be arrested, hidden away in shelters or driven from the streets."

They may be a bit of both, or they may be none of the above. What they seem to me to be are fellow sufferers in a world where you can be up one day, down the next and back in the middle on day three.

There are a lot of people who don't seem to have suffered enough to develop compassion in the New Seattle. But there are an equal number of folks who seem to truly believe that everything is George W. Bush's fault.

The truth, as we've been saying, is usually somewhere in between.

Don't take my word for it. Climb out of that SUV, turn off that personal computer, take off those headphones and have a look (and listen) around.

There's a lot of gray out there you're missing, swaddled in your little mechanical world of avoidance.

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