NEWS-LEDGER — MARCH 28, 2012 –
BY DARYL FISHER
A few nights ago I was watching one of those cable network news shows and the panel was discussing some of the televised political ads that are currently being aired in many of the states which are holding 2012 presidential primaries. The talking heads on the panel weren’t all that interesting, but the actual verbiage and images being used in the ads were. In fact, it was actually pretty disturbing to watch politicians who desperately want to be the President of the United States call each other every name imaginable, and do so in ways that stretch the truth so badly that it is actually nothing less than lying.
After the show was over, I found myself reflecting on why our current political discourse has gotten so nasty and unkind. But since our politicians only reflect the voters they long to impress, the answer must be with us as individuals, and not just with those we choose to lead us. And the more I tried to get my head around such a sad reality, the more I found myself thinking back to Jack Vincent, an elderly little man who used to live right across the street from the house I grew up in on Michigan Boulevard here in West Sacramento.
Jack was a man of great energy for someone his age, or at least it seemed like it because when he walked, he always did so at what was warp speed for him. And the one thing which really set his walk apart was that he was very bow-legged, and the combination of that and the speed he tried to get up to when he was on foot made him very noticeable when he was shuffling from place to place. But as interesting as Jack’s way of walking was, the thing which really made him unique – and so memorable to me – was how he always went about interacting with his fellow man. I doubt that Jack’s special way of talking to other people was a conscious or calculated thing on his part, but rather just an extension of who he was as a person, and it went something like this:
Whenever Jack would see someone, be they a few feet away from him or way across the street, he would find a way (with a big smile on his face) to pass along a compliment, or just say something nice that, thinking back on it after it had happened to you, would make your day. And it didn’t matter if you were young or old, short or tall, skinny or fat, black or white, rich or poor, in fancy clothes or in hand-me-downs, because Jack could always somehow come up with a compliment that seemed to be genuine, more or less accurate, and right from his heart. He seemed determined to always be nice and thoughtful and kind to everyone who crossed his path.
In my particular case (remembering that I was in my early teens at the time), Jack would say such things as, “Now Daryl, that’s a great haircut you just got! It makes you look really handsome! Boy, are the girls going to be after you now!” Or, “I wish I could throw a ball up against my garage door the way you do yours! What an arm! I bet someday the New York Yankees are going to be after you!” Or, “I think it’s great that you always help your dad with the yardwork! Hard-working young boys like you make me feel good about the future of this great country of ours!”
So when Jack was done with me I usually felt like I could take on the world and that it was only a matter of time before I would be driving the girls crazy and playing shortstop for the New York Yankees! And as time went by, I began to notice that Jack’s ability to always be thoughtful and never mean-spirited had the very same effect on others as it did on me. And many was the time I would overhear Jack making someone else’s day, and then see them stroll away from him smiling and with a little more spring in their step, all because a little old man who walked funny chose to take a minute or two out of his day to say something kind and nice to a fellow human being.
So, at a relatively early age I learned that if we really want to, we can actually choose to make those around us feel good about themselves, or we can just as easily choose to do the opposite. We can consciously decide to bring out the very best in others, or we can constantly harp on all their week points. We can send people on their way to face another tough day with a smile on their face, or we can weigh them down with ugly words and make them feel heavy.
One of my favorite sayings (although I no longer remember who wrote it and have probably rearranged the words a bit over the years) is: “If there is any kindness I can do, let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again.” For whatever reason, Jack Vincent had decided to live his life that way, and maybe if more of us dedicated ourselves to the same goal, we could actually have ourselves a relatively civil society again, and our politicians and their political consultants wouldn’t dare fill our airways with all those hateful words, half-truths and lies.
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