My Fellow Travelers

Last week I spent a couple hours on I64, traveling east, then a couple more back home.

And I noticed something both alarming and depressing—the roadways seem heavily populated with bullies.

Sometimes, a car suddenly appeared behind me, almost close enough to drive right on up into the back of my jeep.It was at this point I felt unequivocally bullied.  There was menace in their maneuver.  At the earliest possible moment, they would go around, at a frightening proximity; both next to me, and when they pulled in front.

In addition to feeling like I’d just been roughed up for my lunch money, I felt an absolute disregard for, and denial of, my humanity.  I was not only in their way and deserved rebuke, I was less than. On my way home, this attitude struck me even more forcibly.  You see, I was returning home after a day with Sam Jones, proprietor of Skylight Inn and owner of Sam Jones Barbecue.

To look at Sam, you might make a few assumptions.  And, they may go something like this: he’s a rich, famous restaurateur who comes from the most famous and important family in town.  He’s got a fancy new restaurant, and nobody’s ever said no to him, and nothing bad’s ever happened.

Not Sam; just a representative cliche of a stereotype of a rush to judgement.

Heck, in 2003 the Skylight Inn won a James Beard award for “American Classics”.  This award thrust him firmly into the realm of celebrity chefs.

Two years later, Sam was working in the family restaurant, a respected volunteer in the Ayden fire department, and talking marriage with Ashley, a fellow Ayden resident, and his girlfriend of six years.

In their hometown, they were well-known and well-liked, the prom king and queen of Ayden.  Their future was bright and glorious, just like the rest of their charmed lives.One day the couple was traveling in Sam’s truck.  He pulled into an intersection.  And that was the last thing he remembered until he found himself crawling on the road, looking for Ashley.  There had been a collision, ejecting both from the vehicle.

She was under the front of the truck.  She wasn’t pinned, but Sam knew it was bad.  He found his hand-held radio and called in the accident. When rescue arrived, he wouldn’t allow them to transport him until Ashley had been loaded into the ambulance.  With paramedics furiously attending her, the truck left, and finally Sam was taken so that his own, not insignificant injuries could be tended to.

Ashley didn’t make it.

Within six months of this nightmare, both grandparents, constant, daily presences in his life, passed away.  Sam was left in a dark, dark tunnel and it seemed, some days, that he would never emerge.  And many days, didn’t want to.Today, Jones is married with two young children.  He’s also become chief of that volunteer fire department.  He loves what he does and gives back every chance he gets.  He’s smart, funny, cooks amazing Q, and tells a great story.

The point here is that everyone has a story—everyone.  Even the famous guy with the exciting life, even the middle-aged lady driving the well-worn jeep with too many bumper stickers. Every.Single.One.

Life is short, often hard, and can change in the blink of an eye.  There is no telling in what part of a stranger’s story that we encounter them.  It could be the best day of their life or the very, very worst.

So here is my plea.  Please, let us all treat each other more gently.  Just imagine this world if we all acknowledged our shared journey and are kind to every person we meet.Thanks for your time.

The Voice Of Reason

Contretemps (kon-truh-tahnz; French kawntruh-than): an unexpected and unfortunate occurrence.  Synonyms include kerfuffle, hurly-burly, fracas, hullabaloo, brouhaha, and Donnybrook.  As a former English major, my mind just boggles at the mischief our language gets up to (and yes, I do know I ended the sentence with a preposition).Due to instantaneous dissemination and digestion of information, issues that formerly only a few involved parties knew about now have global dogs in the fight.  If somebody in Wichita says something stupid and offensive, wired people in both Kansas City and Kazakhstan know, have opinions about it, and feel obligated to weigh in on it.In the past, when people said and did hurtful, illegal, and sometimes just flat-out annoying things, the circle of knowledge and subsequent anger was much smaller.

Now, when an outrage occurs either through ignorance or malice, the news travels around the globe, and the indignation of millions can be ignited in the time it used to take to get out stationary for the writing of a sternly worded letter to the editor of one’s local paper.  Recently a couple of controversies occurred involving area businesses.  Both happened in the real world.  But in both cases, social media spread the word and left much egg on many faces.As a bystander, each controversy seemed easily predictable.  One seemed to stem from the overreaction to a minor provocation by an authority figure, and the other a clear, textbook case of cultural appropriation so blatant it bordered on naked racism.

Oh Jeez…

Social media, in many cases not only spreads the word of the real-world ruckus, it also, in an ever-expanding number, provides the opportunity and venue for offences that then spread like crab grass during a rainy summer.

Some examples:

A person posts a cruel, tasteless “joke” right before getting on an international flight for business.  By the time the plane lands, the thoughtless passenger has become a worldwide pariah, and is unemployed and disavowed by their red-faced former employer.A company attempts to use the historic Mideast turmoil to sell shoes.  A phone company clumsily references 9/11 in an ad.  On Pearl Harbor Day, a soup company makes the mistake of tweeting a flag-waving noodle.

And, pretty much any time Kanye West tweets anything, ever.To hopefully mitigate damage that ensues from these missteps, I suggest the creation of a vital new position for every company in the US.

The voice of reason.  Or, if you like, special executive vice president of the office of not being dumb and getting into easily avoidable trouble.They can recommend guidelines like staying completely away from sexual, socioeconomic, educational, racial, and any other stereotypes that exist.  Just take your hands off the keyboard and walk away.  Just.Walk.Away.

A VOR (Voice of Reason) worth their salt will never let corporations engage in petty back and forth school yard-style bickering with private citizens.  Nobody likes a bully.  Especially not a multi-national bully worth billions.So, for the private social media aficionado without the means to employ their very own VOR, I offer a few tips that may save the pain and infamy that comes from ill-considered postings.

Sure Champ, sure.

Check your sources.  And then check again.  If the information you want to post are so outrageous that only a world-wide conspiracy necessitating the silence of thousands of co-conspirators from all walks of life would make it work, you can be pretty darn sure it’s not true.  That many humans are incapable of keeping their mouths shut—I promise.And I beg you, when drunk or jet-lagged never cut your hair, call your ex, or hit “enter”.Thanks for your time.