Praying for Perspective: A return to a time when we knew better

When civility reigned, a minor disagreement would not have escalated into a shooting with a fatality

By George Valadie

I just don’t know anymore. The paper offered up yet one more story about one more shooting death.

Sadly, there are more than a few to read about. But this one grabbed my attention because it was so close to home. Literally, this cold-blooded murder had happened just a mile down the road in a strip-mall parking lot we’d frequented more than a few times.

Here we go again – headlines of another senseless killing caused by what I was sure was another desperate thief wanting what wasn’t his.

But I was wrong. Dinner was over.

A 52-year-old man and his three children had just finished a family birthday celebration in a restaurant, and all four of them were strolling to their car.

They arrived there to encounter a car parked adjacent to theirs and its husband and wife owners. The paper’s account wasn’t quite clear on who said what to whom, but it was clear an argument ensued.

Apparently words were exchanged and tempers were elevated. Witness accounts say there were some almost-moments of calm followed by some of the couldn’t-leave-well-enough-alone variety.

Out comes a gun, down goes a dad. Right in the chest. Three kids watching.

And — I kid you not — the argument was about one car being parked too closely to another.

No car was bumped, no paint was scraped. Nothing and no one had been injured—except for some feelings.

Who would have imagined the results—one funeral and a whole bunch of years in prison?

Seriously, whatever happened to “no harm, no foul”?

“Excuse me sir, but it seems you may have parked your car a little too closely to ours. We’re having a little bit of trouble getting into ours, and we don’t want to scrape yours. Any chance you could help us with our problem?”

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize how close I had parked to you. I was sure I was centered between the lines. It’s these big cars, you know. I have some trouble parking it in some places.”

“Well, you know both of us have one. It’s just harder than it used to be. Maybe if we tackle this together, we’ll both be good to go.”

Yeah, right! Sounds as if it was more like, “… and move your car or else.”

“Or else what?”

Bang. That’s what!

I just don’t know anymore. Where have our manners gone? Our civility? Our sense of tactfulness? Why do we fire before we aim? Before we think? Why do we make the dramatic leap from irritation to assault?

Use any cliché you want. Look before you leap. Think before you speak. Catch more flies with honey. We know them, but we seem to use them less and less.

I’m guessing none of us has actually killed anyone, but it’s not much of a stretch to see an underlying problem. In the last 10 years, I’ve seen a remarkable increase in the quantity of communications I receive that are just plain rude.

I don’t know, maybe I deserve them. Maybe I’m not the principal or the person I used to be. That could very well be. But the numbers are sure greater than they used to be.

I see people (me, too) firing off thoughts that weren’t thought out. And people replying with words that are intended to out-blast, not outthink. If e-mail had volume, people would turn it up.

We speak, we write, we blurt without passing any of it through the filter we used to have. Think it? Feel it? Why not say it?

Though e-mail has its obvious advantages, how great would it be if it could tell if we were writing with our heart, our head, or neither?

I’m looking forward to the day when it comes equipped with a memory file of several thousand insulting words. If you type one of those, your computer will lock up and refuse to “send” until such time you come to your senses. The length of delay will be determined by sensing the degree of force with which you were banging on your keyboard.

Or maybe our computers could read and then rephrase for us, not only searching out typos and lousy grammar but also offering less abusive suggestions that substitute for our thoughtlessness.

Of course no computer will ever stop someone from shooting someone else over an absurd argument about an even more absurd topic.

So maybe that’s a really stupid idea. (We would be allowed to insult ourselves.) But we sure do need some sort of help. Some sort of return to a time when we knew better.

Or maybe to a time when we tried harder.

Dear God – Every so often we forget. We lose sight and we lose track. Please help us remember there’s a better way. Yours. Amen.


George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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