by David Sisler

I was pulling into a fast food restaurant, heading for the drive-through window, when I noticed the truck backing up.

Now, I don't remember all of the fine points of the law I studied before I took my Dad's 1959 Chevrolet Brookwood station wagon to get my first driver's license more than 30 years ago, but I do remember that a vehicle backing into traffic -- even in a parking lot -- is required to yield the right of way. So I slowed down, thinking, "This guy will see my car and stop." Wrong.

I came to a complete stop, thinking, "This guy will look back, see me and slow down." Wrong.

So I laid on the horn. And he kept coming. I fumbled for reverse. And he kept coming. Finally, the noise from my horn became too much of an annoyance and he turned around. He opened his door and shouted, "Didn't you see me backing up?"

"Sure did," I responded, "that's why my horn was making such an awful noise!" He waved at me with the universal gesture of friendship, drove out of the parking lot, circled onto the street and waved at me again. Friendly cuss.

The pickup driver was wrong. Totally and completely. Yet he responded as if the incident were singularly my fault. I guess if I had not deserved a break that day, he would not have tried to break my car and thought about breaking my face. So, obviously, it was my fault.

U.S. News & World Report recently highlighted our nation's increasingly uncivil behavior. Some interesting observations have surfaced from this fouling of America. Nine out of ten of us feel that incivility is a serious problem, but only one percent of us feel that we are not civil. That one percent is certainly producing a lot of discourteous, improper and potentially dangerous behavior.

High schools use metal detectors in an attempt to keep out weapons of violence. Political campaigns are noted for the depths to which candidates stoop in order to win, not the heights to which they try to raise our government. Bench clearing brawls are becoming common place in professional sports. Nudity and offensive language are becoming staples in the media.

Trash talk shows hostess Sally Jessy Raphael defends the airing of public garbage as simply a reflection of popular culture. If Sally is correct, America needs a new mirror.

That sad reflection was nowhere more prevalent than when ValueJet Flight 592 crashed into the Florida Everglades. Covering that tragedy, many of the news gathering organizations sunk lower than the muck which claimed 110 lives.

Cameras were kept away when family members boarded buses to travel to the crash site, to place memorials, but one reporter told us that he had "peered into the windows of the buses" and had seen children inside. Aren't you glad he did that, so that your enquiring mind could know?

Early on we learned that rescuers had recovered "body parts." A Dade County Medical Examiner declared, "it is unlikely that we will recover any intact bodies." Larry King, always the purveyor of good taste asked a guest, "We won't find all the victims, will we?" And not content to let that comment speak for itself, Mr. King added, with just the right expression of sadness on his face as his voice trailed off, "All the alligators..."

Put yourself in the company of those who lost loved ones in that crash and the talk of body parts and alligators takes on an entirely different perspective, doesn't it? Those reporters and commentators did not enhance their stories with such details. They cheapened all of us and brought unnecessary grief to the survivors.

As a nation, we are suffering from an overwhelming lack of self-control. If students and politicians and athletes and television producers and news gathers and any of us or all of us cannot control ourselves, the controls which society and government already has in place must be used, and used quickly. Jail students who carry weapons to school -- either that, or get ready for more funerals. Throw mudslinging politicians out of office -- better yet, don't elect them in the first place. Suspend athletes who start brawls -- a full year on the sidelines would soon cure that behavior. Change channels, or don't buy the publications -- when ad revenues dry up, maybe someone will get the message.

If you think that those negative answers to negative behavior leave something lacking, then try something positive. The Golden Rule, for instance. The small group who calls itself "The Jesus Seminar" declares that Jesus didn't really say, "Treat people the way you want them to treat you," but they allow as how it is an idea that is close to one of his own. The majority of us believe he did say exactly that. But before the practice of "in your face" gets totally out of control, the debate must stop and his words must be put into practice. We have no other choice. The sad thing is, that if Jesus does not live inside of us, the effectiveness of his words outside of us will diminish.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 5/25/96

Copyright 1996 by David Sisler

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