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The difference between knowing and doing better
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When Nix, the unpredictable, funniest kid in our family, was 4 years old, he found himself in some bit of trouble, though we’ve now all forgotten what it was. Only the punch line lingers in our minds.

"Nix, why did you do that?" his mama asked in her strictest tone.

The cotton-topped youngster spread his hands, palms up, his blue eyes wide at his predicament. "I don’t know. I know better but sometimes I just can’t help myself."

See, Nix, at 4, summed up what the rest of us need to remember: Most of the time we know better than what we actually do. As Mama would say, "We cut off our noses to spite our faces." If we all stop and think about it, many of our undoings are our own doings.

But we just can’t help ourselves.

In my speaking contracts is a clause that says payment is due on the day of event and if not paid, there is a 10 percent penalty. It normally works beautifully and keeps me from having to chase money once the engagement is said and done. A few years ago, a company didn’t pay on time, which put that clause into play. The event I had done was a huge success, so they had already engaged me for the following year. When they balked at the penalty, I insisted. They paid it, but canceled the next engagement. I wasn’t surprised. At the time we debated the clause, I knew there was a good chance it would cost me much more in the long run. I knew better, but I didn’t do better. I just couldn’t help myself.

I’m thinking now about all of this because of a letter I received from a disgruntled reader who chastised me for encouraging a friend and offering prayer when she was going through a difficult time. The woman maintained that such offers were worthless and empty. Giving her money or food was the better solution.

The woman, who actually signed her name (most letters like this are anonymous), wrote that in the course of two years she, a pharmacist, had lost her job, marriage and home and was reduced to living out of her car. Words of encouragement and prayers meant nothing to her, she noted. She needed more.

I understand that. I wrote back and was glad I did because when her second note arrived, I read between the lines to see what truly had happened. The woman is a pro at alienating folks. This is not a good trait to have in times when jobs are so hard to come by because if budget cuts come, the difficult folks, no matter how talented or smart, will be the ones who are released. Given the choice of keeping one of two employees, would you choose the nice one or the mean one?

I know someone who, literally, cannot get along with anyone. Wherever she goes, she cuts a wide swath of discontent and quarreling. She huffs and puffs that no one likes her and, as you might imagine, it’s everyone else’s fault, never hers. She’s the victim. Whenever Claudette tells me a story of some kind of conflict that the woman’s in, I laugh and say, "There she goes again. Winning friends wherever she goes." I often say, "Does she not realize that the common denominator in all these disagreements is her?"

You would think that, sooner or later, folks like this would realize they’re the masters of many of their own disasters, either by attitude or actions. You’d think they’d straighten up and take charge. You’d think.

We can all do better, especially when we know better. Sometimes we have to overcome our natural inclinations and take control.

It’s so simple that even a child can figure it out. Why can’t we?

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should). Visit to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.