Apples, Actions, and Leopards

April 15, 2011

by Mark Matteson

Edmonds, Washington is a sleepy little burg on the shores of Puget Sound. The ferry goes back and forth from Edmonds to Kingston. I am always happy to return there from my travels. It is like an old friend I haven't seen for a few years; I pick up where I left off. As a kid, I called it "Deadmonds" and couldn't wait to leave. Now, 35 years later, I smile when I walk around downtown. I do all my business in my community. It's nice.

My barber's name is John; he cuts hair six days a week. John is originally from Ohio. Me, too. I was born in Ravenna, near Akron. He creates just the right atmosphere in his shop for his demographic, the 45- to 75-year-old man. There are 25 different magazines to read and a 42-inch flat screen tuned to ESPN or CNN.

When I want to read, he never says a word. When I want to talk, he listens. John is smart in that common-sense-everyman kind of way. He is always busy. I usually have to wait, but I don't mind. The experience is always worth it. I tease him that he should only charge me half the price. When I tip him, he says, "Oh, no, I couldn't. That would be stealing!"

During my last visit, I asked him, "So, what do you know?" A little surprised that I wanted to talk, he quoted a psychiatrist friend of his from Columbus, Ohio. It was profound. He said, "Human beings can be summed by three proverbs:

"The apple always falls close to the tree.

"Actions speaks louder than words.

"A leopard never changes his spots."

It was like a two-by-four to the back of the head. The next morning, I grabbed my journal and started thinking about what John had said.

The apple always falls close to the tree. As much as I would like to believe otherwise, a big part of who I am is due to my mother and father. I can break it down for you. Because of my late mother, Barbara Jean Matteson, I love books, write for a living, have a love of all things British (including a great cup of tea), love a gathering, and enjoy theater and film. Because of my late father, Robert D. Matteson, I am tall, balding, have a great sense of humor, love hearing or telling a good story, have a passion for basketball, and don't like anyone telling me what to do. If I am honest, he never suffered fools gladly. Me, too. Mean and stupid people are tough for me to handle. Each of us has our parents' DNA hardwired into us from birth. Mannerisms, vocal patterns, attitudes, beliefs, prejudices, affinities, interests, and eating habits all come from our parents. Will you pass who you are onto your kids?

Actions speak louder than words. Socrates concluded at the end of his life, "I stopped listening to what men said and watched what they did." My children don't listen to a word I say, but they watch every move I make. Able example is the model imperative. I will always be judged by my actions, never on my intentions. It takes 21 to 35 days to form a new habit. Good habits are hard to form, but easy to live with. Bad habits are easy to form and hard to live with. Is it the same for you?

A leopard never changes his spots. Emerson wrote, "Who you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying." It has been said, "Who you are is fixed by the time you are five years old." That is uncomfortably true for some people. In my observation, it is true 80 percent of the time. Acceptance of our strengths and delegation of our weaknesses seems to be the answer for a lot people, but there are some things we CAN change. That is what I choose to focus on. My attitudes, my behaviors, my moods, my thoughts and feelings, my friends, the books I read-these are things I CAN change.

Looks like I could use a trim around the sides and back. I wonder what John will tell me next?

Some Wisdom and Advice from Thomas Edison
Now some perspective from the other side of the ledger, from a man who invented several entire industries (movies, electricity, music). Yes, there are some things that will never change (Apples, Actions, and Leopards). That being said, here is some timeless wisdom and advice from the man who never said "never".

Discontent is the first necessity of progress.

Invention is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.

Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.

If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.

Anything that won't sell, I don't want to invent.

The best thinking has been done in solitude. The worst has done in turmoil.

The value of an idea lies in the using of it.

Opportunity is missed by most people because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work.

There is far more opportunity than there is ability.

Your worth consists in what you are and not in what you have.

Provided by Mark Matteson, Matteson Avenue.  Subscribe to the Matteson Avenue e-zine by visiting
Contact Mark Matteson by calling 1-877-672-2001 or by e-mail at

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