“Is That Fair, I Ask You?”

Yesterday my son observed that (to paraphrase) it seems like in this world if you do ninety percent right, people will focus on the ten percent you did wrong.

He’s not entirely incorrect, of course (John Wilkes Booth will never be remembered for his acting skills, for instance), but I tried to convey to him that the scale of what you do right and wrong does tend to matter. To do so, I cleaned up (in a sense) an old joke I know:

A traveler was out hiking one day and got completely lost as it started to get dark. Before he lost the light entirely he noticed a finely made fence leading up the hillside. He followed the fence up to an equally well built cottage and knocked on the door.

“Excuse me,” the traveler said to the old man who opened the door. “I hate to bother you, but I’m lost and it’s too dark for me to find my way into town tonight, so could I stay with you until morning?”

“Of course!” the old man said. “I don’t get many visitors these days, so I’d appreciate the company. Did you find me by following the fence leading up here?”

“I did!” the traveler answered. “It’s a very nice fence.”

“I built that fence all by myself, you know,” the old man said with pride. “This cottage too, but never got any credit for it. Do they call me a master carpenter, no they do not!”

“Why is that?” the traveler asked.

“You know how it is,” the old man said with a shrug. “You kill and eat one hiker, and suddenly you’re ‘The Mountainside Strangler’ . . .”

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