Put Yourself in His Place

Once upon a time, a crowd of men were working in the woods where they had to do their own cooking. They took turns at being cook and they made a rule that when any one of them found fault with the food provided, that man must take the cook’s place, until he in turn was released from the distasteful job by someone’s finding fault with his cooking.

This worked very well, with frequent changes in the occupancy of the cook shanty, until the men had learned better than to criticize the food. No one wanted to take the cook’s place so they became very careful about what they said and the poor unfortunate who was cooking for the hungry crew saw no chance of escape. He was careless as to how his work was done but no one found fault; he burned the biscuit, then he made the coffee too weak but still not one objected.

At last he cooked a mess of beans and made them as salt as brine. One of the men at supper that night took a huge mouthful of the beans and as he nearly strangled, he exclaimed, “These beans are sure salty!” Then as the eye of the cook, alight with hope, glanced in his direction, he added, “But my, how good they are!”

It is so much easier to find fault with what others do than to do the thing right one’s self. Besides, how much pleasanter to let some one else do it. Of course a mere woman is not expected to understand politics in Missouri, but there is no objection to her understanding  human nature and it is certainly amusing to watch the effects of the working of human nature on men’s political opinions. I know of some men who were all for war during President Wilson’s first term. “The United States soldiers ought to go down there and take Mexico! A couple of months would do it! The United States should fight if our shipping is interfered with. It would be easily settled.” There was much more to the same effect, but now that the fight is on and there is a chance for them to show what they can do, their fighting spirit seems to have evaporated. it was easy to find fault, but rather than do the work themselves, almost anything is good enough. It is the quiet ones who hoped we might be able to keep out of war who are volunteering.

One after another our young men are enlisting. Eight in a body volunteered a few days ago. The war, the terrible, has been something far off, but now it is coming closer home and soon we shall have a more understanding sympathy with those who have been experiencing its horrors for so long. There is nothing quite like experience to give one understanding and nothing more sure than that if we could be in the other fellow’s place for a while we would be less free with our criticisms.

In the days of long ago when armored knights went journeying on prancing steeds, two knights, coming from opposite directions, saw between them a shield standing upright on the ground. As the story goes, these fighting men disagreed about the color of the shield and each was so positive, the one that it was black, and the other that it was white, that from disputing about it they came to blows and charged each other right valiantly. The fury with which they rode their steeds carried each one past the shield to where the other had stood before, and as they turned to face each other again, each saw the side of the shield which the other had first seen and the man who had said the shield was white found the side he was now looking at to be black, while the one who had declared the shield was black found  himself facing the white side, so each got the other’s point of view and felt very foolish that they had fought over so simple a thing. It makes a difference when you’re in the other fellow’s place.

“Put Yourself in His Place”  by Laura Ingalls Wilder, published in The Missouri Ruralist, August 5, 1917

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