Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

August 1998

Last one daunted wins

Last one daunted wins.

Engineers destroy something to find out how good it is. Crush it, tear it, burn it, drop it, crash it, freeze it, hit it, pull it, sink it, boil it, drag it until it breaks. Similarly, biomedical research is often carried out by doing bad things to good bunnies. Clinically, stress tests are used to determine the soundness of organic functions.

A professor of English literature I endured 40 years ago proposed that a person had to eventually fail at something in order to accomplish his/her best.

The whole idea is rather appealing if you spend some time with it. The professor called it being defined and used boxing as an example. How could you possibly know how good a boxer you were until you had been knocked out, he argued. I am not sure that is the most elegant illustration of the point but you get the picture. Think of weight lifting. Two people each lift 250 pounds. One attempts to lift 255 pounds but fails. The other retires. Who performed better?

I remember being in the audience at a graduation ceremony where awards for academic excellence were being conferred. One young woman received about six awards: the science something or other; the French thing; good writing, most artsy, and on and on.

I wondered at the time if she would have been better off attending a more competitive (I believe that's an okay word) university. It's as if someone was incredibly good at crossword puzzles but never got a crack at The New York Times. How can anyone know what they can accomplish until they attempt something they cannot?

Michael Jordan tried baseball, for instance. I think it fair to say he is a better basketball player than baseball player. The question is whether he is a better basketball player for having tried to be a better baseball player.

To be dauntless is to be incapable of feeling intimidated or discouraged. Better, the argument goes, to be daunted. For one thing, it's more realistic, therefore mentally healthy as opposed to being out of touch with reality, a clearly unhealthy mental state. To be dauntless is to be without the knowledge of how good you are by knowing how bad you can be if you go too far.

For instance, consider the case of Mack's Creek, Missouri. This formerly dauntless city was literally a speed bump on the way to Lake of the Ozarks. For years, it kept its taxes in line by arresting and fining speeding tourists.

One day, one of the city's finest bagged a Missouri legislator who was so daunted he got a law passed that limits the percentage a municipality can earn from traffic fines. Then the MODOT (Missouri Dept. of Transportation) told Mack's Creek to increase its speed limit on Highway 54. Geezum. Then the state claimed a share of past fines that should have been handed over to benefit crime victims. Ole Mack's Creek is nearly bankrupt. It's down to its last two officials. The police chief quit to become a deputy sheriff; then the last cop, mayor, city clerk and two alderwomen resigned. The two remaining aldermen (brothers) can't officially meet because they need three for a quorum.

Pretty neat, a whole city defined! Congratulations to all!

You know, maybe we can set up a few speed traps on roads leaving Vermont and bag out-of- staters. All we have to do is drop the speed limit on the interstates to 60. We could call it Act 60. People need to know their limits.