Don't become a razor when standing at the edge


I hurled an echo down a hall,

bouncing and bruising

whited walls,

asking pardon

of none at all.

Now, who will answer?

I did something incredibly empty last week. It was neither intentional nor unintentional. Cruelty often comes packaged that way.

I could blame the usual suspects. A hot day. Had to be two places at once, that sort of stuff.

They won't mask the fact that I just blew it. Common courtesy and maturity abandoned me as I came up against a Dilbert situation.

The popular business comic strip character is the latter day Franz Kafka, a blithe corporate spirit caught up in the labyrinth of institutional obtuseness.

I have conditioned myself to rage against the machine which dehumanizes. I was disappointed to find that I can still lose my own humanity in expressing that criticism.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been doing business with some good people at a very large institution. Their organization is so hidebound that in order for them to mail you something from Las Vegas, they must make a request to have it sent from Arizona.

Somewhere around 101 sultry degrees late one afternoon, I got a call from a long-suffering Dilbertite at this particular place.

She proudly reported having in her possession the piece of hardware she had worked so diligently to acquire for me.

Did she have a manual on how to install and use it?

No. That would be mailed from Arizona to Las Vegas at some indeterminate future time.

But I needed it in Reno. Today!

I lost perspective that I was dealing with a very conscientious person doing her best to work within strictures set by a behemoth institution which makes inflexible rules designed to maximize profits and minimize people.

I behaved immaturely and rudely. When I called back a few minutes later to apologize for my shortness, she had left her office for a few days off.

She undoubtedly needed them in no small measure because of people like me.

When she gets back, she will receive this column, a formal letter of apology and flowers from the loud lout who hurt her feelings.

I felt like hell the rest of that day and went to bed without even the cold comfort that I had done something to right an unnecessary wrong.

The very next day, I was sent a couple of reminders about where such incivility can lead. The Daily Sparks Tribune reported a story about a young man's family suing a local finance company alleged to have sent thugs to repossess his car.

The lawsuit charges that the lenders dispatched a couple of armed storm troopers in full body armor to their debtor's place of employment. The jerks drew their guns and said they had an arrest warrant, the lawsuit asserts. The 24 year-old and his co-workers were terrorized.

The storm troopers threatened both the young man and his girlfriend with arrest, the lawsuit alleges, further noting that the thugs also went to the young man's home and made similar intimations to his family before being thrown out.

"That afternoon," Tribune reporter Willie Albright wrote, "while driving (the car in question) at a high rate of speed, (the young man) took his life with a shotgun. The car was destroyed."

Who will answer?

In Gardnerville, 60 miles south of here, something eerily similar happened about six weeks ago. The Associated Press reported the suicide of another fine young man, age 13.

His sin was apparently being born a shy person. His fellow students wrote in his yearbook that he should stand up for himself more.

His family said he "was not equipped to handle the harassment he endured at school. He had a difficult time making friends and liked to spend time on his own. He always was a very introspective child who loved to read and write, creating stories and plays."

His mother said "he wouldn't tell on anybody, but a lot of kids knew what was going on."

His father noted that "some kids can't handle the teasing and the name-calling...I wish the other students could see how they treat the other kids - the loners who don't fit as well."

The Gardnerville survivors went public hoping to extract some good out of needless tragedy. The dead boy's sister "hopes counselors, teachers and students will keep a protective eye out for kids like (her brother) who make easy targets."

For both families, the wounds will never heal, the questions will never stop.

Who will answer?

"The world as we know it will never be the same," said the 13 year-old's mom. "I'm sure (he) wouldn't want us to go through this pain. I don't think when kids are considering this, they see the devastation they leave behind."

So therein lies this week's lesson from this poor practitioner of the civilized arts. Don't follow my example. You might not luck out like I did.

Someone wiser than me apologized on my behalf when the woman I slighted delivered the product complete with the missing instruction manual.

I will get the chance to say I'm sorry. Others in this story will not.

On any given day, you might be tested in just such a way. Before walking over the edge of unkindness, take a breath. Step back. Smile. Try to make common cause with the person at hand.

Don't place her or him on the receiving end of unfriendly fire when totally undeserved. Inquire as to what you might do to help the situation.

That's called maturity. Humanity. Civility.

Common kindness and politeness.

Unwind and be kind.

Try it sometime.

Be well. Raise hell.


© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a Reno-based syndicated columnist, a 29-year Nevadan, editor of U-News and campaign manager for Democratic candidate for Governor, State Senator Joe Neal.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988 and parts of this column were originally published 8/9/98.