By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
I thought this week I would share with you an important life-lesson I experienced decades ago. What will the words we express today afford us or others five years in the future? This is how I learned then the virtue of good teaching and how I’ve come to realize in the strife of much of today’s discourse that sowing discord is the antithesis of prosperity.
In my case it was a simple lesson that had a profound outcome.
When I was sixteen years I joined the sheriff’s office as a cadet, working mostly at that time in the jail and occasionally paired with a deputy on patrol. While assigned at the jail, I befriended one of the state troopers who would bring in arrestees on occasion. He invited me to do a few ride-alongs with him to introduce me to his department and give me a few pointers. We shared many years of friendship afterward.
One particular night we happened to be driving through a winding canyon, having several blind corners and narrow shoulders. In that section of highway it was not uncommon to have rocks fall onto the pavement, especially between the fog line and the edge of the roadway. While we were visiting he rather nonchalantly said to me to the effect of “Try not to drive over the fog line unless you are absolutely certain it is clear and safe to do so, ” meaning if you cannot see around a curve or over a hill, don’t cross the line.” It was mentioned only casually, but I took it to heart–seemed reasonable to me.
Now we fast forward five years. I graduated from college, received my commission, and was driving back toward home at the end of my shift. It was around 4:15 in the morning and I wanted to meet up with my coworkers as we often did at the usual place before we went off-duty at 4:30. It was still dark, and on the highway coming into town the road descended down a long hill with a curve to the right. I remember I cut the corner a bit to smooth out the curve, driving about a third of a car width over the fog line. I was over the line, yes, but it was 4:15 a.m. and nobody else was out there and the curve was not blind. So I suppose I didn’t initially think it was much of a big deal to be a little over the line.
Then, an almost fleeting thought came through about what my friend told me those years ago. And so I casually returned back to the travelled portion of the highway. Then it happened.
About a second or two after I got back into my lane, to my extreme shock, I drove right past a man who was lying on the road: inches away from my tires. He was on his side with his feet on the edge of the road and his head resting right next to the fog line. There was zero reaction time from when I saw him until I passed him by; no warning that he was there, only enough time to see him snap into view and then disappear…and at the next instant suddenly realize that I nearly struck and killed someone.
It’s a truly unnerving experience when you and I face something like this, as human beings, for the first time. It’s like feeling as if you somehow sucked in twice as much air as you normally inhale in a split second with your heart suddenly pounding so hard you can actually feel the arteries in your neck pulsing with every hardened beat. And just as quickly there is a cruel reversal when you realize the gravity of what just happened and it seems as if all the life-energy in your body vanishes from your soul. I suppose it can be interesting from the perspective of studying the human condition as to what the body does in such events. But to attain an understanding of such a riveting experience it is decidedly better that we live this vicariously, I assure you. Everyone is much better off that way.
I managed to compose myself back into the task then before me and to pick up the pieces. I radioed the dispatcher to send a deputy to meet me while I turned around to check the person on the highway. I had a great deal of trepidation walking up to this person, lying motionless on the street, and having to face the probability that this was more of a recovery operation for someone who had just been hit by someone earlier and another terrible sight I would now have to bear.
Yet as I walked up to this man it was somewhat to my surprise and certainly to an even greater relief that he opened his eyes and stood up next to me. Thank God.
I asked this man, who was in his early twenties, if he was o.k. He was fine, somewhat groggy but happy actually. I asked him the usual open-ended question of what was going on tonight. He said he lived in the next town over and wanted to visit his mother here in the city. I saw then that he was a bit mentally handicapped and might not have realized the distance involved. After several hours of walking he became tired so he decided to lie down and go to sleep until the sun came up. He surely did not think he was doing anything wrong. He just did not realize the danger he would be in by resting where he did. For that it was almost doubly-tragic what might have unfolded that night.
We were fortunate in the sense that the shelter had an available bed to safely take him in for the rest of the morning so that he could be on his way without us having to worry about him. The other deputy and I chatted for a while and I reflected on how bewildering it was that it was really luck that a fleeting thought to drive back over the line a second or two earlier saved this man.
“Someone’s got to take care of these people,” my partner said as he walked back to his patrol car. He got that right. A true measure of a society is how well it treats its most vulnerable.
I believe it is especially worth re-mentioning the value in giving consideration to promoting good practices and sound teachings, especially younger people. In my case here it was just the one-off comment by a veteran trooper to a sixteen year old cadet that five years later saved a life. And it was our responsibility when we became the veteran officer to convey those and also other newly improved ideas to those new recruits during their field training. One FTO’ing strategy is that you make a strong effort to always train the new officer the best way to do things. The habits of them will formulate solidly and those habits will either be good in the case of sound advice or detracting in the case of bad.
Yet for us and everyone else–actually–with what we have been reading here today among other articles, on this blog and elsewhere…maybe we as a people should begin some candid introspection on what result will become of our own words. What kind of fruits might we bare five years in the future with what we have planted in the minds of others today?
As mentioned in yesterday’s article about some non-descript professor bragging of the need to murder other people based on their job titles, what might be the effect of such statements, seeded into the thought of others, only to manifest as some form of result months, even years later? We have to ask ourselves if we truly want to experience the fruition of the discord we have sown. Or do we instead plant harmony and harvest a better life for all of us?
I find the abundance of discord to be rather tiresome. The bad influence it creates in us can systemically if left unchecked lead us to tragedy. The words we convey mostly will be inconsequential, yet if influential can form a lattice structure in the thoughts of society that can in rare but significant cases evoke a strong outcome when triggered by a convergence of events. In my case a friend seeded in me a simple defensive driving strategy–an idea for good–that transformed the event of a “wrong turn” over a line that when corrected saved a life. If it wasn’t by me perhaps it could have been for the next car coming along that hit the traveler if someone didn’t intervene. But the other side of this is the discord, either great or small. In the worst case example, if promoted internationally, social strife can set up a precarious status quo where an otherwise ordinary “wrong turn” can be combined with a human mind seeded with anger and a great upheaval can result.
You have to wonder about the character of a person who has a proclivity to sow discord in the hopes of advancing their own goal of achieving importance (yet at best only attaining consequence). Are they truly strong enough to endure the world they seek to create, or worse the world that actually results? It’s been my experience that most of them are not even close to being sufficiently cunning or formidable enough to survive tyranny. It’s better to simply not go down that nefarious path.
Try to speak of benevolence when teaching others. Leave the malevolence to the history books.
By Darren Smith
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