By Darren Smith, weekend contributor
I thought this week I was going to share with you an important lesson from life that I experienced decades ago. What will the words we express today offer us or others five years in the future? This is how I learned the virtue of good teaching at the time and, in the struggle for much of today's discourse, I realized that sowing discord is the opposite of prosperity.
In my case, it was a simple lesson that had a profound result.
When I was 16 years old, I joined the sheriff's office as a cadet, mainly working in prison at the time, and occasional patrol with a deputy. While I was in prison, I made friends with one of the state troops who occasionally brought in those arrested. He invited me to take him for a few lifts to introduce myself to his department and give me some pointers. After that, we shared many years of friendship.
On one particular night we happened to be driving through a winding gorge with multiple blind corners and narrow shoulders. It was not uncommon for stones to fall on the sidewalk at this stretch of the highway, especially between the fog line and the edge of the roadway. During our visit he said to me rather casually, "Try not to drive over the fog line unless you are absolutely certain that it is clear and safe to do so." That said, if you can't see around a bend or hill, don't cross the border. "It was only mentioned in passing, but I took it to heart – it seemed reasonable to me.
Now we fast forward five years. I graduated from college, got my commission, and drove back home at the end of my shift. It was around 4:15 in the morning and I wanted to meet with my co-workers, as we often did in the usual place, before going off duty at 4:30. It was still dark and on the highway that led into town the road climbed down a long hill with a curve to the right. I remember cutting the corner a bit to smooth the corner and driving about a third of a vehicle width over the fog line. I was over the line, yes, but it was 4:15 in the morning and no one else was out there and the curve wasn't blind. I don't think I initially thought going a little over the line was a big deal.
Then an almost fleeting thought came through what my friend told me years ago. And so I casually returned to the busy part of the freeway. Then it happened.
About a second or two after getting back into my lane in my utter shock, I drove right past a man lying on the road: inches from my tires. He was on his side, his feet on the side of the road and his head right next to the fog line. There was no response time from when I saw him to when I passed him; No warning that he was there, just enough time to bring him into view and then disappear … and the next moment suddenly realizing that I almost hit and killed someone.
It is a truly unsettling experience when you and I, as humans, experience something like this for the first time. It's like feeling like you've been sucking in twice as much air in a split second as you normally breathe, and your heart was suddenly pounding so hard that you can actually feel the arteries in your neck throb with each hardened beat . And just as quickly there is a cruel reversal when you realize the gravity of what has happened and it seems as if all of the life energy in your body is disappearing from your soul. I suppose it can be interesting from a perspective to examine the human condition, what the body does during such events. But in order to gain an understanding of such a fascinating experience, it is decidedly better that we live this vicariously, I assure you. Everyone is much better off that way.
I managed to put myself back in the task at hand and pick up the pieces. I radioed the dispatcher to send a proxy to pick me up while I turned to check the person on the freeway. I was very scared of walking up to this person, lying motionless in the street, facing the likelihood that this was more of a recovery operation for someone who had just been hit by someone before and another horrific sight that I was now would have to see wear.
But as I approached this man, it was somewhat to my surprise and certainly an even greater relief that he opened his eyes and stood next to me. Thank you God.
I asked this man, who was in his early twenties, if he was okay. He was fine, a little dazed, but actually happy. I asked him the usual open-ended question about what was going on tonight. He said he lived in the next town and wanted to visit his mother here in town. I then saw that he was a bit mentally retarded and may not have realized the distance. After a few hours he got tired and decided to lie down and go to sleep until the sun rose. He certainly didn't think he was doing anything wrong. He just didn't realize the danger he would be in by resting where he was. But it was almost doubly tragic what might have developed that night.
We were fortunate that the shelter had an available bed to safely house him for the rest of the morning so he could be on his way without us having to worry about him. The other vicar and I talked for a while and I thought about how confusing it was that it was really lucky that a fleeting thought of going back across the line a second or two earlier saved this man.
"Someone has to take care of these people," said my partner as he walked back to his police car. He got that right. A true measure of a society is how well it deals with its weakest.
I think it's especially worth mentioning the importance of promoting good practice and sound teaching, especially younger people. In my case here, it was just a one-off remark from an experienced soldier to a sixteen-year-old cadet that saved a life five years later. And it was our responsibility, when we became the Veteran Officer, to convey these and other newly improved ideas to these new recruits during their field training. One strategy of the FTO is for you to go to great lengths to always train the new officer in the best way. The habits of them will be solidly formulated, and those habits will either be good with informed advice or distracting with bad advice.
But for us and everyone else – actually – with what we have read here today in this blog and elsewhere … Perhaps we as a people should start an honest self-observation about the result of our own words. What kind of fruit could we bear for five years in the future with what we have planted in the minds of others today?
As mentioned in yesterday's article about an indescribable professor who brags about the fact that other people must be murdered because of their job title, what could be the effect of such statements being sown into the minds of others to be just a form of result months still manifest years later? We need to ask ourselves whether we really want to experience the fruits of the discord that we have sown. Or do we instead plant harmony and reap a better life for all of us?
I find the abundance of discord rather tiresome. The bad influence it creates in us can systematically lead to tragedy if not checked. The words we convey most of the time are inconsequential, but when influential they can create a lattice structure in the minds of society that, in rare but significant cases, can produce a powerful result when triggered by a convergence of events . In my case, a friend inoculated me with a simple defensive driving strategy – an idea forever – that transformed the "wrong turn" event across a line that, if corrected, saved a life. If it wasn't for me, it might have been the next car that hit the traveler if someone hadn't intervened. But the other side of it is discord, either big or small. In the worst case, social conflict, if promoted internationally, can create a precarious status quo in which an otherwise common “wrong turn” can be combined with an angry human mind and great upheaval can occur.
One has to wonder at the character of a person who tends to sow discord in the hope of advancing his or her own goal of achieving importance (but only achieving consistency at best). Are they really strong enough to endure the world they want to create, or worse, the world that actually surrenders? In my experience, most of them are nowhere near smart or impressive enough to survive tyranny. It is better not to go down this shameful path.
Try to speak of benevolence when teaching others. Leave malice to the history books.
By Darren Smith
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and not those of the blog, host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without prior approval or review. The content and all advertisements or works of art are solely your decision and responsibility.