By MIKE McGOUGH
(PACIFICO REFLECTIONS) For years his prowess with a rifle was unchallenged. He never shot anything but a bull’s eye. In fact, some folks said, he was so good he could light a stick match with a single shot from his .22 at a hundred yard. A fellow once said he could even do it blindfolded. No one had ever seen him do it, but everyone believed he could just the same.
In search of a human-interest story, a new writer for the local paper, decided to pay him a visit. She didn’t believe anyone could hit a bull’s eye every time, so she decided to check it out for herself. She went out to his farm on the edge of town, and sure enough, there was all the proof she needed. On the side of the barn that faced the house there was one bull’s eye after another. The bull’s eyes were in no particular pattern, but everyone was shot once right through the center.
She quickly came to the obvious conclusion that he may in fact really be that good. Then she spotted a hole that wasn’t even close to a bull’s eye. On a closer look she found that it was a hole made by a .22 round. Still amazed, she started toward the house to meet this guy who was a perfect shot. She had some questions about that stray shot, but guessed that maybe he was trying to teach someone else to shoot. Surely, a man who was that good couldn’t miss a whole bull’s eye.
As she started toward the house, she heard someone whistling. An older fellow came around the side of the barn and said, “Hi, can I help you?” He was carrying a bucket of white paint and a small paint brush.
“Yes,” she said. “I’m new around here and I’ve heard a great deal about a man who is a perfect shot. I wanted to meet him and learn how he got so good.” She told him she was working on a story for the county paper.
“I suppose it’s me you’re looking for, but I must warn you, I’m not nearly as good as folks like to think I am.”
“You sure couldn’t tell from how many times you hit the bull’s eyes on the other side of the barn,” she countered.
“Oh that,” he said. “It’s really not that hard if you have some paint and a brush.”
“No, not painting the bull’s eyes, I know anyone can do that,” she said. I mean shooting each one of them dead center. Can you really light a match at a hundred yards?” He didn’t answer, but just motioned her to follow him around the barn. She guessed that he was about to paint another bull’s eye on the barn, then he’d walk up to the house and he’d show her how he shoots them.
He looked around on the side of the barn for a while, then he found it. She thought he was looking for an open spot. Instead, he was looking for that stray shot. With a steady hand and a clear eye, he painted a bull’s eye right around that stray shot. He laughed while he was doing it, and she joined him in his amusement. “Been doing this for years, and folks been believing it about that long too.”
He told her that once he had been a great shot and still was better than most. But he said for some reason, folks thought he was a lot better than he was. He said he liked his shooting reputation and didn’t figure it caused any harm letting folks believe he was a whole lot better than he actually was.
She spent some time with him that afternoon and he shared a little about his life and a pretty simple philosophy he had developed. He said folks tend to believe about each other what their perceptions tell them is true. He said reputations, whether good or bad, are more the result of people’s perceptions than truth or fact. He also said that once folks get a notion in their head about someone, whether its good or bad, they just seem to want to hold onto it.
He said he hoped she wasn’t too disappointed and started to ask if she would keep his little secret. Then settling back in his chair he said, “No, it actually makes no difference whether you tell folks what you saw or not. What they’ve come to believe about my shooting abilities is now far more believable than the truth will ever be.”
She never did write the story, because she knew he was right. And besides, she had her own reputation to think about!