Once a groundhog was coaxed by handlers from its secure underground location to offer its wisdom to the waiting populace. As a rule, the groundhog declined to venture out except to address gatherings of carefully selected invitees, where it would, ironically, deliver itself without reticence of grave opinions on every subject under the sun. To succeed at this wide-ranging task, it had perfected a simple but effective strategy: talking out of both sides of its mouth at once, thereby cutting down on the effort needed to spread its wisdom around. On this occasion, however, the groundhog had been called upon at a moment when it felt particularly comfortable in its burrow and wasn’t particularly anxious to face the light. Still, out it was induced to come because the number of those who swore by it for guidance about what to think and what to do in uncertain times was steadily growing. Not fully awake, the groundhog engaged in a bit of throat clearing along the lines of “Just go about your business as if nothing has changed but remain vigilant for signs that everything has.” The effect of this offhand muttering was as auspicious as if the groundhog had said something more considered out of both sides of its mouth to begin with. Those who heard it gave a collective sigh of relief and went on with whatever they’d been doing until then, confident all would be well if they just remained alert for any sign that something wasn’t. Seeing the reaction it produced, the groundhog began to warm to its role and to show a few more signs of alertness itself. Being the center of attention had a definite appeal, especially by comparison with the pedestrian life the groundhog led otherwise. Who wouldn’t enjoy being looked to by so many, confident they hung on one’s every word, when at any other time nobody gave a thought to whether one even existed? Yes, the groundhog was clearly beginning to like its place in the sun and showed signs of being loath to give it up. But convincing the public of the need to keep it where it was required varying the message every so often, it decided. Otherwise, boredom and fatigue might well set in. Against that possibility, the groundhog sought to spice up its two-mouthed message (if one can speak of groundhogs and spice in the same breath) with expressions such as “credible,” “highly credible,” “the most highly credible to date,” and so forth. This tactic seemed to do the trick for a while, but the groundhog’s handlers, aware of the risks of overexposure and of straying “off message” in the heat of the moment, reluctantly concluded it would be best to return it to its safe burrow until the next call for reassuring words might arise. Then it could pop out again, perhaps scaring the bejesus out of folks initially but soon repeating the welcome advice to carry on as if everything and nothing might happen at the same time. To carry on, in brief, as if there wasn’t the shadow of a doubt that such counsel was worth putting your faith in.
Copyright © 2003-2004 by Geoffrey Grosshans