Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Shadow & The Tree

When nothing is owed or deserved or expected
And your life doesn't change by the man that's elected
If you're loved by someone, you're never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it.
- The Avett Brothers

One wonders what the talking heads on the 24/7/365 cable news networks shall resume covering round-the-clock now that it appears as if the sad tale of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has reached its predictably tragic conclusion.  One (presuming that one is Yours truly) wonders also that if it turns out that what happened to the poor folks on that plane was indeed catastrophic mechanical failure and had exactly zero to do with the pilot and/or the co-pilot whether the scrubbing clean of names so readily soiled and besmirched in the aftermath of the plane's disappearance will be conducted with one-quarter of the zeal as the soiling was itself.  Sadly, this is not my first rodeo.  Therefore I know the answer to that question.  And if you stop for a moment and think about it, so do you.

We the people use words as weapons.  Except for the Russians that is, who use weapons as weapons - but only when after the people of Crimea beg with them to do so in order to preserve the results of fair, democratic referendum on whether Crimea will remain part of the Ukraine of join Mother Russia.  We use words as weapons in a decidedly deliberate manner.  Speech is not as careless as we might like to try and convince one another it is.  More often than not - in my experience anyway - it is utilized with deliberate design.  A surgical strike in the guise of a slip of the tongue.

Once upon a lifetime ago my old man was fond of telling me that we are born into this world alone, we exit it the same way and in between the only thing of value that we hold in trade - as commerce if you will - with the rest of the world is our good name.  When that which we hold most dear - our good name - is attacked whether it is done with provocation or without, it matters not.  The brush with which we are painted does not contain washable ink. 

I love John Wooden and the way in which he used his "classroom" - the basketball court - to teach those who played for him more than just the "X's" and "O's" of basketball.  However, I wonder if his "Woodenism" regarding the interrelationship of reputation and character ever envisioned an "instant everything" world.  Coach Wooden's philosophy was "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are."  We live now in a world where one's reputation - attacked on-line with enthusiasm by someone with an ax in need of a grinding - can be irrevocably harmed in little to no time.  Being a person of good character may seem to be of little moment once the court of public opinion opts to try, convict and sentence you - facts be damned.   Being Nancy Grace means never having to say you are sorry after all.    

At day's end, however, I remain committed to the idea that my father was right.  We are who we are.  We own what we own - both good and bad.  Our character can either be our strongest trait or our frailest.  The choice is ours. 

Here in the State of Concrete Gardens we have seen a prime example of the strength of character over the course of the past several days.  Over this past weekend, a fire broke out at an elementary school in Edison Township, gutting the school and rendering its faculty and students in need of a new home at least for the duration of this school year.  The Edison Township Fire Department initally deemed the fire "suspicious".  Turns out it was not.  Jerome Higgins, Facilities Manager for the Edison Township School District who supervised the custodians at this particular school, and who has worked for the District for close to a quarter-century, did something careless while leaving the building Saturday evening after having worked there for part of the day.  He tossed a still-lit or smoldering cigarette into a garbage can.  What followed was chaos.  The school, which was constructed fifty years ago, had no sprinklers.  By the time the Edison Fire Department responded, the building was engulfed in flames.   Mr. Higgins has been charged with a petty disorderly persons offense because smoking in the school building is not permitted.  He has accepted responsibility for what happened.  He understands that his carelessness has consequences, including him being placed on paid administrative leave by the District for an indeterminate period of time while it contemplates further action against him.  

Given the nature of the world, it is more likely than not that at least one occasion shall arise in which we are attacked, whether personally or professionally (or both perhaps), in a manner that damages our reputation.  And do not feel compelled to take my word for it.  Read the comments to the story regarding Mr. Higgins here:  

Stand fast.  Hold tight to your core values.  Know who you have been, who you are presently and who you shall be.  Waver not at all from those principles.  Those around you whose ears are pricked by the sounds of nonsense and lies being told about you are those with whom you should not have been wasting any of your precious time.       

But those who remain.  Those who support you in your time of strife as you do them in theirs, those are the ones who appreciate the distinction between character and reputation.  Those are the ones who know you for who you are.  Those are the ones worth knowing.  

The ones who can tell the difference between the shadow and the tree....


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