Newsline , Society

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Posted on Friday, November 3, 2023
by AMAC, Robert B. Charles
Don't sweat the small stuff on antique paper

Richard Carlson, doctor and author, wrote a book in 1997 entitled “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and It’s All Small Stuff.” It stayed a bestseller for 101 weeks; no wonder why.  We need the message again now.

That same spirit is found in advice Ronald Reagan – rather playfully, but also seriously – left for his vice president and successor, George Herbert Walker Bush, when Reagan departed the White House.

After taking office, George H.W. Bush found his predecessor had left a note in the top drawer of the desk they both came to share. Handwritten, the elder Bush called it “a really lovely, warm note.”

On the funny side, Bush said the pad on which Reagan wrote was unique. The note began, “Dear George, you’ll have moments when you want to use this particular stationery… Well, go to it.”

Each page of the pad, as detailed by Bush, had “a crowd of cartoon turkeys trying to pull an elephant to the ground,” with the message – not identifying the turkeys – “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.”

If one president can offer that idea to another – so can one American to another – especially in times of raucous, often ridiculous personal criticism, political hype, a senseless tendency to petulance, puffery, disrespect, and the personal swipe. 

Another quote from Carlson says what we all know and why we gain from shrugging off nuts and detractors but also from not falling into the trap they set: “Your heart, the compassionate part of you, knows that it’s impossible to feel better at the expense of someone else.” Don’t let the turkeys get you – or become one.

We should never feel bad about who we are and the beliefs formed by life; we should sidestep trivia, hysteria, nonsense, and strife. But we should also resist going low.

Thirty-eight years ago this month, Ronald Reagan – ever the humorist – made a national day for another. In November 1985, Reagan declared National Mark Twain Day, a nod to the man who remains a mystery yet lifted his nation.

As Reagan wrote, Twain – born common Sam Clemons – wrote countless books, from Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn to A Connecticut Yankee in King Author’s Court, was like a bright comet, here and gone.

Born the year Haley’s Comet arrived, in 1835, Twain was taken home 75 years later when it arrived again in 1910. But the key is that, like Reagan, Twain knew not to let the turkeys get you down, not to sweat the small stuff.

He suffered losses, personal and profound, but never let them take him down. Not for long, at least, since he was all about perspective, putting stress and hype in place.

In that spirit, Twain wrote: “Life is short; break the rules, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably, and never regret anything that made you smile.”

Is that not some of the best advice you have ever heard? Does that not make you pause and think, accept the possible, and reject the absurd?

Yes, putting into practice what we know is hard, always has been, and always is. But that does not make the alternative, the rubbish of modern dystopia, political nonsense, falling down the dark well, trading black for light right. Never.

As if Twain presaged Reagan and others like Carlson, staying at peace is a matter of wanting it and then practicing getting there, staying there, and lightening the mood because life is light if you make it.

As Twain wrote, “Never argue with stupid people. They will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience,” and “worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe.” Right, you know?

Here is the thing: life is short but also sweet – longer and sweeter the more we know that truth. And here is another thing: giving lightness, not sweating the small stuff, not letting the turkeys get you down – is catchy, it spreads like a big smile.

Reagan started that note in the desk tradition, and it goes on to this day. When Bush 41 left office for Bill Clinton, a member of the other party, he also left a note, and each president since has.

Wrote Bush 41 to Bill Clinton, “As I walked into this office just now, I felt the same sense of wonder and respect I did four years ago…you will…There will be tough times, made more difficult by criticism you do not think is fair…don’t let the critics discourage you…Your success is now our country’s success…I am rooting for you.

In short, don’t let the turkeys get you down. Don’t sweat the small stuff…it’s all small stuff. Respect for each other, laughter, love of America, That’s the big stuff.

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.

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Robert Zuccaro
Robert Zuccaro
7 months ago

All the Clintons left for Bush Jr. was broken telephones and stolen WH silverware. Google it… Hillary had to return tens-of thousands of dollars of silverware and furniture she stole!

7 months ago


Rob citizenship
Rob citizenship
7 months ago

Great advice, strength for the soul and spirit in this message Robert .Should be appreciated by anyone who realizes the importance of keeping things in balance in this life. Always good to think on the positive, optimistic side . And I do believe is part of the quality of resourcefulness. With a bit of humor, that is the way to weather the storms in life, especially the ones that are unexpected. Well done !

7 months ago

Thank you, Bobby, for such an important message! The majority of Americans are confused, frustrated, angry, and truly concerned about the path our leaders are on. So, the advice given and good-natured Reagan humor is a breath of fresh air. This is a time for us all to smile and laugh more. It beats crying and having temper tantrums! We cannot let the turkey get us down or worse, be one. Your quote from Twain should become the mantra for all of us! Thank you!
”Life is short, break the rules, forgive quickly, laugh uncontrollably, and never regret anything that made you smile.” Mark Twain

7 months ago

Such good advice, but hard to take. Be aware, stay informed, but don’t let it rule your life.

K. Martin
K. Martin
7 months ago

If only the other side could do this — or even understand it.

Pat R
Pat R
7 months ago

Loved this!! We could all use a “refresher” course in happy living, especially in these times.

Chuck Wagner
Chuck Wagner
7 months ago

Encourage Israel to not blow up Gaza.
Where will the poor people live after the battle
is over. Be patient , track Hamas leaders using drones and other track methods.
Then send them a big bomb. Much safer, fewer deaths, less expensive, and cheaper to taxpayers.

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