What our angry world does not need is even more pointless intolerance. There’s no excuse for not using a modicum of civility when dealing with others, especially in the workplace.
It doesn’t matter how bad a day you’ve had. Do you know how bad the day of the person you are dealing with has had? Did you ask? Did you even think about him or her as a person? We have all been living through the tensest, most frustrating, angst-riddled period since the Civil War. With the way things are going, we could be rerunning the Civil War soon enough.
In my more than 40-years on the TV news trail, I’ve been verbally assaulted by every kind of minority. I understood it was part of my job. Many people seemed to figure it was okay to shoot the messenger. Early on in my career, I was warned to have thick skin if I wanted to succeed. That thick skin was tested many times. I was taunted by Black people who called me Uncle Tom or house boy, labeled by religious fanatics who called me a Christian stooge and feminists who tagged me as chauvinist. I sucked it up and plowed on to report the facts. Facts usually silenced my assailants who then wrote hate letters to my bosses — in red crayon.
My good stories were balanced by controversial reports that fanned the flames of ill-tempered people. I probably made it worse by writing the haters “thank you” notes. It further angered them. Civilians who have never worked as journalists are surprised by how often people behave badly toward people who are merely trying to do their jobs as well as they can.
So it was that my stepson came home with a story that sounded painfully familiar. Owen manages a local garage which does repairs, inspections and has a mini-mart. He’s known for his work skills. pleasant manner, and sarcastic sense of humor. He usually manages to be cordial in the worst of scenarios.
Yesterday, Owen was in the middle completing one an inspection when he was besieged by a man who jumped out of his Mercedes demanding instant access to a Uhaul truck. Owen tried to pacify the agitated guy, explaining he could not get his Uhaul for a few more minutes. First, he had to complete the inspection on which he was working. The customer not only refused to wait but left his car in the middle of the yard where it blocked the gas pumps and access to and from the inspection area. When asked to please move his vehicle, he launched into a profane tirade topped by the ever-popular “race card.”
Owen is white. The angry one was a person of color. Maybe if Owen had come from a different background, it might have made him more uncomfortable and, given the volatile national stories about these encounters, offered even more ammunition. Certainly this local incident had the makings of getting serious. Moreover, the enraged Mercedes driver was sure the “race card” would pay off. In relatively civilized places like Massachusetts, it usually works. There are plenty of issues in the commonwealth, but on the whole, no one wants to be seen as a racist, especially if they are.
Owen has heard plenty of stories about racism from me. I pretty much specialized in covering race riots and protest marches dating all the way back to MLK and the Freedom Rights movement. Because of his parents and me, Owen is if anything, more sensitive to anything that smells of racism. We joke about it at home, but that’s “family humor.” It never leaves home without us.
Today’s potentially race-toxic incident was defused when Owen stood his ground, convinced the angry man to leave the shop and take his business elsewhere. Eventually, the ante was upped in include a full volume and very firm suggestion that he leave and please, don’t come back. No Uhaul.
The race card didn’t end in a riot or police intervention. Owen thinks the fancier car someone drives, the more arrogant and mean-spirited they often are. Especially those who drive Mercedes’ and BMW’s. They seem to feel their car gives them special rights over other people stuck with lesser vehicles — or at least less expensive ones.
Owen is my stepson, my godson and Marilyn’s son with her first husband Jeff who was also my best friend. I’m proud of him. He’s made of stern stuff without being mean or churlish. Despite his size and strength, he’s a peacemaker.
This country could use more like him. We would all be better off.