Of Murder and Politics

Thankfully I had just parked my car when DFW radio talker Mark Davis began interviewing Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson concerning the indictment of former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger in the death of Botham Jean a few days ago. Had I been driving, I might have wrecked when she began trying to justify the indictment of Ms. Guyger for murder.

To be clear, as a former police chief, police instructor, firearms instructor, and experienced investigator, I have many questions about the death of Mr. Jean. It seems extremely unlikely Ms. Guyger’s actions can be justified. With that said, this piece is not about the shooting itself. Instead, this is about the indictment, and what that indictment might mean for others in the future. The piece also questions the reasoning an allegedly qualified, conservative district attorney used to justify the indictment.

Specifically, Ms. Johnson stated the indictment was justified because of the definition of murder. For the record, the definition to which she alluded is when someone “intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual.” [TPC § 19.02 (b) (1)] Ms. Johnson paraphrased the definition, but her statement was close enough for government work.

At this point, I am tempted to veer off a bit into a technical discussion of murder and other forms of homicide. In this case, that would be akin to carrying sand to the beach. The local media and others on social media have thoroughly explored the options available in this matter. Besides, the concern here is not other possible charges. Instead, the concern here is that the current DA is establishing a precedent the incoming DA may continue or exploit.

Ms. Johnson clearly stated in her defense of the Grand Jury decision that anyone intentionally or knowingly causing the death of another can be true billed on a murder charge in Dallas County. The problem is this. If someone breaks into your home and you defend yourself with deadly force, you may knowingly and intentionally cause the death of another. Yes, you can protect yourself with deadly force under those circumstances, but doing so still places you in jeopardy.

Some may be thinking, “Jeopardy? Not in Texas! Texas has the castle doctrine, and Texans have a right to defend their families and their property.” Yes, they do, but there are limitations, restrictions, and consequences if one makes a mistake in such a situation. Consider a slightly different scenario in the Amber Guyger case.

Suppose former officer Guyger had just come home from her extra long work day and was in her apartment. Due to the double shifts, overtime work, just not getting enough rest or whatever, she fails to close and latch her door.

A short time later, Mr. Jean accidentally parks on the wrong floor, enters the building, walks to what he thinks is his apartment, pushes open the door, and confronts Ms. Guyger in the darkened apartment. Or in other words, made the same mistake Ms. Guyger allegedly made on the night of Mr. Jean’s death.  A confrontation ensues, and Mr. Jean is killed.

Given the world in which we live today, does anyone really believe the outcome would be any different? Technically, if Ms. Guyger were in her residence and felt threatened or thought Mr. Jean was there to rob her, she would probably be within her rights to use deadly force. Still, under the definition of murder in the penal code, and as stated by the current DA, she could be indicted for murder.

Some might scoff at the hypothetical scenario and outcome above. The idea that someone might be charged, indicted, and tried for shooting an intruder in their home seems ludicrous in Texas. While that might have been true in our parents’ Texas, things are different today. Between the racial component of this case and social media, it is likely the aftermath of the hypothetical situation would be the same as what the officer faces today. There is just too much pressure on elected and appointed officials, including prosecuting attorneys and judges for them to stand up to accusations such as they encounter in 2018.

As of this moment, no one knows the eventual outcome of this case. Perhaps there is evidence of misconduct beyond poor judgment and overreaction on the part of the officer. If such evidence exists a conviction on a murder charge or a lesser criminal offense is possible. Whether there is or not, the former officer might plead to a lesser charge, which will bring more public outcry, but avoid a possibly messy trail and the resulting public response.

Whatever the outcome of the criminal proceedings, Ms. Guyger’s life is ruined. Whether she is convicted or not is to some degree a moot point. The only difference between a conviction and acquittal in a case such as this is how one serves his or her time. Conviction means prison time, but guilty or not guilty Guyger has nothing pleasant in her future. She faces being a pawn in a civil court battle that could include more public scrutiny, substantial legal bills, and other personal consequences beyond what one can easily imagine.1

1. For more on the consequences of using deadly force, check out: Option, Saga, Question

© OneOldCop.com – 2018

Posted in Law Enforcement, Police, Politics, Self Protection | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Thank You for Your Service?

Here we are, the week after Thanksgiving. We have recovered from turkey, stuffing, overeating, football games, family, and steering clear of politics around the dinner table or during half-time. Christmas is just over the horizon, and Veterans Day 2018 is a fading memory.

If not today, very soon asking someone what they did on Veterans Day will likely bring a blank stare or one of those, is-he-kidding looks. After all, it is just one of those holidays designed to interrupt our mail service and give federal employees another day off. At least that is the way many may think of it if they think of it at all before next November.

Fortunately, some folks understand Veterans Day is more than an excuse for a day off or a cookout. Many of these people believe honoring those who served, and in many cases died, in the service of our country is a privilege, possibly a duty. Even more seem to feel a need to honor our veterans in some fashion, though they may not be sure why.

Confusion in the area of honoring, acknowledging, or thanking veterans is nothing new. Over the decades one could watch the ebb and flow of our respect for those who wear this nation’s uniforms, risking life and limb to keep it secure. From the honor shown to the Greatest Generation following World War II to the disdain, even disgust, shown those who served in Vietnam, to the confusion created by 9/11 and the hostilities in the Middle East, the nation has struggled to know when, where, and how to say thank you to those who risk their lives to keep us safe.

The horrific events of 9/11 changed the nation’s understanding of warfare, service, and sacrifice. For the first time in modern history, the U. S. mainland suffered an attack resulting in mass casualties. Those atrocities changed a nation’s understanding of what it means to serve one’s country.

Suddenly, the nation understood those who serve in uniform, whether they be firefighters, police officers, soldiers, sailors, or other uniformed services were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to keep us and our country safe. Their sacrifices, at ground zero and later in the Middle East, lifted the veil of uncertainty from a population still wondering about the Vietnam era. Once again, it was time to say thank you to the men and women who protect and serve this country.

Sadly, another problem arose. How, precisely, does one express gratitude to a serviceman or woman for going to battle in some far off land? How does one, or should one, thank a firefighter or police officer for, most of the time, merely doing the job? If that were not enough of a quandary, another issue became apparent over time. How the focus of one’s gratitude reacted.

Over the years I watched people struggle with knowing how and when to approach someone in uniform and say thank you. More important, I watched and heard how hard it was for those in uniform to respond to those who want to express their thanks.

In many cases, the soldier, officer, or other service member looked like a deer in the headlights before mumbling a thank you. I also watched those who offered their thanks walk away shaking their heads wondering why the object of their effort reacted in such a low key manner. In too many instances, the contact was mutually frustrating instead of gratifying.

It is possible such interaction can be precisely what one hopes. A person walks up to someone in uniform and says, “Thank you for your service.” The recipient of the thanks handles the contact just as one might expect, and they part company feeling a little better about their world that day. If only they were all like that.

Quite often, the problem is on the receiving end. The majority of the people who serve, regardless of how or where they serve, are not seeking praise, or even recognition. They are serving because they are called, at some level, to do so. Their recognition comes from those with whom they serve, their family, and friends. They would quite often rather someone threaten them than say thanks. Those who serve know how to handle aggression. Kindness, on the other hand, is unexpected, possibly suspicious, and to some degree embarrassing.

Assuming my thoughts are right, what is the point of this piece. Am I suggesting thanking someone for their service is wrong? Am I accusing those who wish to thank someone of having an ulterior motive? Am I blaming those who wear the uniforms of being ungrateful? No, no, and no!

What I am saying is this. Should you choose to thank a member of the military, a firefighter, a police officer, a paramedic, or anyone else for their service go ahead. Understand, however, that not everyone you approach knows how to accept your comments. This can be especially true when using the term, thank you for your service. As noted above, many find this embarrassing, and will not react with what you perceive as gratitude. That does not mean they do not appreciate the gesture. It just shows they do not know how to respond.

You on the other hand, if your comment was sincere, have tried to do something nice.  Regardless of their reaction, you can walk away knowing you reached out and can feel good about your effort. With that said, it may be possible to express your gratitude in a way that the service member can understand and accept more easily. 

My thoughts on this issue were triggered by an unfortunate situation developing just prior to Veterans Day. The incident involved a poorly thought out comedic skit on television.  

The skit, in the form of a satirical news commentary, ridiculed a newly elected member of Congress and disabled veteran, Dan Crenshaw. The skit was, to say the least, offensive. So offensive in fact viewer reaction resulted in a public and hopefully heartfelt apology on the part of the comedian and the show.

In addition to the apology, Congressman-elect Crenshaw appeared on television with the comedian. They then engaged in their own little skit concerning the incident, and the Congressman-elect was given time to comment on the situation and how to thank veterans of all types.

Lt. Commander Crenshaw, Ret. shared the need for us to settle our differences in a fashion similar to what we witnessed on television that evening. He went on to suggest a different way to connect with military veterans, and, by implication, others who served or sacrificed in the line of duty. He suggested we use the phrase, “Never forget” instead of “Thank you for your service.” His comments rang true to me, which is why you are reading them.

Before, closing I have one more thought to share with those who might want to thank someone for their service or tell them never forget. Do not say it if you do not mean it. Thank you for your service has become the have-a-good-day of the twenty-first century United States. People throw out thank-you-for-your-service in a knee-jerk fashion, and everyone knows it. None who served or serve in any capacity want a thank you that is meaningless or a platitude. If you aren’t certain you can give a heartfelt thanks, just smile, nod, and pass on by. 

I cannot swear the Congressman-elect was right about his suggestion.  Some approached that way may have a quizzical never-forget-what look on their face. Still, it may be worth trying.  To that end, I will close with the following.

I have something to say to Robert Tuel, Michael Lynch, and the others with whom I’ve worked, shared a story, cried, or laughed throughout the years. “Never Forget!”

© OneOldCop – 2018

Posted in Civility, Daily Life, Manners, Veterans, Vietnam | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Date With Destiny?

Boy! You come up with what you think is a cool title, and some guy named Tony Robbins is using it for his latest lecture series. Sad, but one must do the best one can with the tools he is given. So, I will soldier on in the hopes my use of the term will make sense, even if it does not help you find your purpose in life!

Okay! Sarcasm aside, I am writing today to share a story I hope you will find interesting and helpful. It is my little story and does lead to a date with destiny of sorts. That date was October 19, 2018, and the destiny part included an ice cold operating room, a cardiac surgeon, and one of those afternoons everyone would rather avoid.

This little saga started several years ago with a medical diagnosis that was more confusing than unsettling. My heart, yes, I do have a heart though some of my former subordinates often wondered about it, was never normal. By that I mean one section of it was somewhat enlarged and tortuous, and a regular heartbeat was pretty much not in its repertory. Perhaps that is one reason I winced whenever someone broke into Ella Fitzgerald’s “I’ve Got Rhythm.”

Suddenly, I found out I had another irregularity. Something called AFib joined with my long-standing premature ventricular contractions to confuse my doctors and complicate my life. The funny thing was, I had no idea. I did not feel bad. I worked out five to six days a week, had plenty of energy, and no symptoms to indicate something was wrong. I thought I was, except for being overweight, the picture of health. Well, my doctors torpedoed that self-image pretty quickly.

To be fair to the doctors and to save a bit of time, I will not detail the next few years. Let’s just say my faith in the medical profession was tested. I found myself over medicated and undergoing risky procedures that were of little or no help.

Finally, I was left with two poor choices. The first was to take a boatload of medication. The problem with this choice was the medication made me feel somewhat like a zombie, reduced my stamina to the point any form of workout was draining and lowered my heart rate to the point I was in danger of passing out without warning. The other option was to carry on as before with an increased risk of stroke. I decided on another strategy.

I decided it was time to fire my docs, at least the heart doc, and find some new ones. Amazingly, when I broached this subject with my primary care doctor, and he spoke with the cardiologist another alternative was discovered.

To be clear, the new alternative was not one I particularly liked. I did, however, agree to consider it when my cardiologist agreed additional and more extensive testing concerning my condition was in order. After the testing, he admitted a mistake had been made, and my situation could be treated differently. It was not one that appealed to me, but after a good deal of research and discussion, I agreed.

The next step led me to a gurney in a frigid operating room trying to entertain the nurses, anesthetist, and doctor with my gallows humor. Yes, I am one of those guys. I like to impress those around me with coolness under fire. Some will argue people like me make jokes at times like these to alleviate their fears. I think of it differently.

I have been in plenty of tense situations over the decades. Due to my experiences, I came to believe a little levity lets those around me know I am at least somewhat in control of myself. Also, if they are stressed, it might help them a bit to at least chuckle at the poor slob trying to impress them. It seemed to work again, as I did get one nurse to give me what I thought was a real laugh, not just a let’s humor him chuckle.

Since I would be at least partially conscious for much of the procedure, the nurse needed to block my view of the proceedings.  This was done by placing a frame and surgical drape over my face and head. The surgical team could keep an eye on me, without me seeing any squirting blood or worried looks on anyone’s face.

The nurse working on the screening made several adjustments to the draping before the procedure started.  Finally, she asked if I was comfortable with the arrangement. I replied, “I’m great as long as you don’t start pouring water over it.” She actually laughed when she replied, “No waterboarding today.”

I was groggy, but awake for much of the surgery. It was not my first time to undergo surgery where one can feel sensations are associated with actions that should hurt, or hurt a lot more. I did experience some pain with this surgery, but not enough to ask for more anesthesia. I just wanted it finished.

To wrap this up, I left the OR with a brand spanking new, state of the art pacemaker. I also left it with a whole list of new medications I really did not want to take, but the extra tests and research I had done confirmed the doctor’s final diagnosis. The pacemaker would keep my heart from slowing to the point of unconsciousness, or worse, and the medications would deal with the irregularities in my rhythm.

I could tell there was an improvement in my condition by the next afternoon. I had just undergone surgery, had a very sore shoulder and chest, but felt better than the day before the surgery. Today, a month after the surgery, my heart is staying in rhythm, I am back to working out almost every day, and my measurable fitness or workout level is approaching the marks I hit last year.

All right! So much for sharing my little saga and having a bit of fun. Here is why I wrote this piece. I wrote it to tell anyone who is interested a couple of things. First, you are responsible for your life and well being, not your doctor. I was not happy with the treatment I was receiving from my cardiologist for a couple of years, but I stuck with it because my primary care doctor supported him. They are both great doctors, but even great doctors make mistakes. I finally decided I was going to seek another opinion and that started the ball rolling to resolving my issue.

Second, don’t just run off on the advice of a friend or anyone else and get a second opinion. I almost did that, and I firmly believe that would have been a mistake. If you have a good relationship with your primary care doctor give him or her a chance to help you sort this out. You can handle it any way that is comfortable for you, but I believe documentation is important.

I wrote a memo to my primary care doctor detailing my concerns, complaints, and questions. He used that to get my cardiologist’s attention. Today I have a good relationship with two doctors I have worked with for years. I am not building a relationship with a new cardiologist and possibly a new primary care doctor.

Also, I wrote this to get back in gear on writing. I let my heart issue, and some other matters interfere with writing. I am working on a major writing project, but I have many shorter pieces started I would like to finish and share. Let’s see if I can make that happen.

I have a great deal to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. I am confident you have as well.  So, Happy Thanksgiving!  May you have a blessed Christmas and New Year as well.

Thanks for reading.

 © OneOldCop – 2018 


Posted in Daily Life, Holidays, Medicine | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Names on the Wall

Most Sundays, you’ll find OneOldCop singing in the choir at church. Exceptions are made for vacations, mission trips, and special family events. Memorial Day weekend 2018 was one of those family event weekends. Instead of being part of the worship service, I was sitting in the congregation of the Denton County Cowboy Church. It was the third time I’ve attended the church and the first on Memorial Day weekend.

This is a great little church with a down-home pastor and a passel of cowboys. Music, as one might expect, is provided by a worship team that would make any traditional country music fan proud, and if you’ve never heard “The Old Rugged Cross” offered up with a twang and a steel guitar, you’ve missed something special.

Today I am not talking about the sacrifice made on that old rugged cross. Pastor Tim does a great job of preaching the Gospel, and he did again on this Sunday. It was what happened before the sermon I want to mention here.

The church made a heartfelt effort to recognize those who sacrificed their lives in the service of our country. First, they recognized all veterans who survived their service, and then they recognized those who lost someone to war. It was tastefully and warmly done. They closed this part of the service with a solo from one of the men on the worship team singing George Jones’s, “50,000 Names.”

I would love to share a recording of that rendition. Unfortunately, I do not have one. Instead, I offer a video with George singing his song as a tribute to the men and women who died in Vietnam.

I do hope to have something else to publish on the May 30. That was the original Memorial Day until our mighty leaders in Congress decided three-day weekends were more important than the reasons for various holidays. Until then take a look at this.

50,000 Names

© AnOldSinner – 2018

Posted in Daily Life, Family Vaules, Veterans, Vietnam | Tagged , , , , , ,

Battle Scars

I finished a 1,200-word essay with this title two days ago. I fully intended to publish it this morning, but it did not seem right today. Instead, I offer this short introduction to something I shared last year. It is a story set to music. A story sharing some of what I wanted to express in writing. A story building on what I wrote in Run Silent, Run Deep, One Day at a Time, and Something Left Behind. A story that needs to be told on days such as this.

Today, November 11, is the day many countries celebrate or recognize the sacrifices and service of those who served in the military. It is a day of parades, flowers, flags, and remembrance. It is a day when old soldiers, sailors, and others remember their service, their comrades, those serving today, and those who did not make it home. It is a day for those who did not or do not serve to remember and honor those who do or did. For those who served, and their families, it is also a day to reflect on or ignore their battle scars.

Most equate the term battle scars with the wounds one might receive in military combat. The scars on the skins of those wounded in combat are certainly battle scars, but others have battle scars as well. Some scars are almost invisible, and some are invisible. Some are worn by those who survived combat, some are worn by those who treated combat survivors, and others are worn by those who waited for news at home.

In some cases, a person does not know they have battle scars until the wounds reopen. That was, and still is, the piece I originally wrote to post here today. It is the tale of someone who thought he escaped war with few if any scars.  Then something happened to tear one open. I still feel that story needs to be told, but it is a think-piece. Today, we need to feel something when we think of our veterans. I hope the story told through the link below lets you feel something for the men and women who served this country in times of need.

After the War

© OneOldCop – 2017

Posted in National Defense, Patriotism, Veterans, Vietnam | Tagged , , , ,

So Far As It Depends On You – Part 2

Part 1 of this piece concluded with the statement that the friend in question was no longer trustworthy. The piece further opined maintaining a relationship with someone who is untrustworthy is risky at best, foolish or dangerous at worst. And, the piece posed some questions a reader might have about this writer’s thinking in ending this relationship. Hopefully, Part 2 will answer those questions and explain the reasoning behind the dissolution of a thirty-something year relationship.

It is likely each person reading, “the individual in question was no longer trustworthy,” in Part 1, experienced a reaction to that phrase. Their reactions were based on personal experience and understanding of the term, trustworthy, and that is where problems arise with discussions of this nature. For instance, some might feel one is either trustworthy or not trustworthy. Oh, if it were only that simple.

If I asked you to define the term trustworthy in one word, what would you say? It is likely the first word that would pop into the minds of most people is honest. Another word that would come up fairly quickly might be dependable. Merriam-Webster online would agree with the dependable response, and Oxford Dictionaries would agree with the honest response. Oxford throws in truthful, and Merriam-Webster adds worthy of trust. To some, the distinction between the two definitions may be nonexistent or moot.  In the real world however, the differences may be significant.

For example, consider Dennis the Menace. Dennis is, of course, a comic character, but comics such as Dennis the Menace illustrate the realities of life in a whimsical way that can often be more on point than an Oxford University lecturer attempting to explain the nuances of the definitions mentioned above.

Few people, when confronted with someone like Dennis, would consider that person trustworthy. Yet, Dennis fits the definitions of the word to a tee. He is honest and truthful. In fact, he is so honest and truthful, he is often an embarrassment to his parents. He is also dependable. In fact, as his parents and his long-suffering neighbor know, he can be depended upon to create chaos and elevated blood pressures on a regular basis. In absolute terms then, he is trustworthy. Regrettably, he is trustworthy in a very negative sense. So you ask, what does Dennis the Menace have to do with the topic at hand?

Social media tends to bring out the Dennis in many of those who use it. A cartoon character frustrating his parents and disrupting the lives of neighbors and friends is apparently amusing. At least, it is amusing enough to keep the comic strip alive for more than sixty years. Such behavior may not be as amusing in other venues such as social media. The question then becomes when does cartoonish or reactive behavior cross the line from disappointing to unacceptable?

The answer is of course subjective. One may put up with a goodly amount of strange behavior to keep peace with a neighbor. The same may be true for a lifelong friend or family member. Still, at some point, it is possible for a friend or relative’s behavior to be so far outside the realm something must be done about it.

To this writer, the Bible offers some insight into this issue. Whether one believes the Bible is the inspired word of God, or simply a collection of morality plays, makes little difference. It contains many good bits of wisdom within its pages, and one seems to give some good advice on the issue at hand. In the Book of Romans Paul writes the following, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (12:18, ESV)

It is dangerous to pull one verse out of the Bible to make a point. Many will argue, taking a verse out of context is wrong, and may misrepresent the intended message. Others will say, variations in translations mean one must look much further than just one translation, a handful of sermons, or a select group of commentaries. All of those concerns are valid, but this verse can stand on its own.1

One goal of this piece was to develop a process or strategy for helping someone know when it was no longer possible to live at peace with a particular individual. In the face to face world, there are many thoughts on this issue. It seems safe to say that in most cases an advisor, counselor, or therapist would agree there is a point beyond which one is not expected to continue a relationship. Usually, that point is reached when a person’s psychological or physical well-being is threatened by continuing the relationship.

It might be possible to apply the face to face thoughts and guidelines concerning conflict resolution to social media. It might be possible, but it seems unlikely. If someone continues a social media relationship that is causing them psychological distress, or poses even a remote threat of injury, they need more help than a blog or essay can provide.2 For everyone else, here are some suggestions.

First, as noted in Part 1, the person needs to be confronted. Given the nature of this discussion, it does not seem advisable to respond tit-for-tat. That is, if someone posts a rant including objectionable terms, pejorative remarks, or ad hominem attacks, it is inappropriate to respond in kind. It would be doubly wrong to if the response is public, but even a private response should be reasoned. Still, some response is appropriate.  If the person attacked another of one’s followers or contacts a response is crucial.

Second, the question becomes what does one do if the confrontation does not work? There are a range of possible strategies from a more direct response via social media to a face to face meeting of some sort. One this writer particularly likes is an old school approach of sending a letter. Even in today’s world, taking the time to write a letter and the fact the other party can hold it in his or her hand is attention-getting. The drawback, of course, is the delay between the incident and the letter being read.

Third, what does one do if steps one and two do not bring about the desired results? Depending on the level of the relationship this step could involve anything from another heartfelt and thoughtful letter to some form of intervention involving others who have a relationship with the person. If going to this length does not work, it is likely nothing short of divine intervention will make any difference.

Some will think this piece seems to be a great deal of thought, advice, opinion, or folderol to solve a relatively simple problem. In the world of instant gratification, hookups, and I-don’t-have-time-for-this-nonsense, the idea of doing anything other than simply moving on immediately is alien. If that is one’s position, so be it. However, this is also the time of understanding, seeing things from another’s perspective, and alleged tolerance.

Many times, a person will be consciously or unconsciously testing the waters so to speak when he or she does something offensive. An off-color joke, if there is such a thing in 2017, an inappropriate reference to someone, or an offensive comment is often made to see how others respond. Failing to respond is in and of itself a response.  One that the other party can justifiably assume is positive. Therefore, unless one is okay with the other’s behavior, a more substantive response is essential.

Engaging in the process outlined above opens the door to saving a relationship or helping another see they are acting inappropriately. Of course, it could also open the door to the possibility that the other person is on point, and you or I need to take another look at how we deal with disagreements or misunderstandings. Either way, there is some value in attempting to deal with conflict in a systematic and reasoned manner.

Back to the Bible verse above.  Whether one believes it is God’s word or some human’s attempt at wisdom, there is sage advice in that passage.  We should live at peace with others, as much as it is humanly possible.  That does not mean we must put up with cartoonish, offensive, possibly harmful behavior.

1. It is in middle of a passage laying out various forms of acceptable Christian behavior, but none change the meaning. One should do the best one can to live at peace with others.
2. I am not dumping the physical threat issue, there is simply not time to address it here. Unless the social media bully lives close by, there should be time, in most cases, to get some advice from reliable sources about how to avoid a physical confrontation.

© OneOldCop – 2017

Posted in Civility, Ethics, Manners, social media | Tagged , , , , , ,

So Far As It Depends On You – Part 1

Ever wondered what to do when one of your social media friends, followers, or connections shares something cringe worthy? Ever thought about disconnecting because of the discourse within your social media world? Ever spend more time deleting, unfollowing, blocking, or trying to refocus than you spend catching up with friends and acquaintances? Ever wondered what the difference is between friends and acquaintances in the age of social media?

Okay! That last one may be a bit of a non sequitur. Some of us likely wonder about the difference between friends and acquaintances in the real world, not just the world wide web. That may be a topic for a future essay, but today I want to focus on the first few questions.

If you have never experienced any problems with your social media presence, this piece is probably not for you. For the other 99.9999 percent of people on social media, hang on for a bit and see if this makes sense.

For the record, this piece was actually started several months ago. It has not been finished because it was, until recently, primarily an intellectual exercise. Two social media connections, who happen to be real life friends, started me down the path of wondering, when is enough enough, or when is too much too much?

One is supposedly retired.  In his case, that means he no longer charges for consulting and mentoring. The other is a full-time pastor.  He may occasionally dream of retirement after a particularly difficult week at church, but he does his best to minister to his flock.

These guys are regularly engaged in online discussions.  In more than a few cases, the discussions caused me to wonder why they maintained contact with some of their “friends.”  One case even caused me to ask the pastor how he knew someone in his network.  His response was he did not know the person but accepted friend requests from anyone.  His reasoning was that he hoped he might share or say something that would help a believer, seeker or skeptic.  In the case of my life coaching friend, the question was a bit more pointed.

I asked him, “Why do you put up with that guy?” Essentially, his response was he believes, as does this writer, that dialogue is important.  If we shut people out of the dialogue or refuse to discuss issues, things will just continue to move closer to anarchy.  He did agree there might be limits beyond which dialogue was no longer useful.

Even as an intellectual exercise, this seemed to be something worth reviewing. Of course, one’s level of interest and inspiration ratchets up a few notches when it becomes a bit more personal. That is the reason this piece is actually being written.

Both An Old Cops Place and An Old Sinners Place stopped allowing comments on blogs a couple of years ago. Instead, a link is provided to allow email comments and questions.  these are answered or acknowledged as quickly as possible. In some cases, they even inspire blog posts.

The reason for making that change was an exchange with what one might call a troll.  Personally, I believe he was an operative for a particular group pushing a particular agenda.  Whatever the reality, the individual made it clear allowing open comments on posts is a recipe for disaster if one does not have time to monitor such activity in real time. Even then, it might be a waste of time to respond to what is obviously someone else’s talking points. It is really hard to dialogue with someone working from a script.

Making the decision to stop taking comments directly through WordPress on blogs was not easy. No writer wants his or her work to be ignored, but building interest or readership through controversy or direct confrontation is of little interest to this writer. Accordingly, after much thought and prayer, the feedback mechanism was changed.

The decision was made a bit easier because blog posts are shared on personal social media sites.  Dialogue with friends or social media acquaintances still occur, but random comments from people trying to pirate one’s blog can be controlled. Now an issue has arisen on one of those sites with an old friend who is also a social media friend.

This is not the first time this particular friend and follower has posted something that went against the grain to some degree. That is the price one pays to have a diverse group of real world and social media friends. Differences of opinions arise, and in some cases people say things that might be uncomfortable for others.

Usually, these matters can be dealt with through phone calls, messaging, emails, or meeting for a cup of coffee. Anyone having a friend with whom they cannot have a frank discussion in some manner needs to reconsider the friendship, if that is what it is. The question then becomes, how many off the record conversations or cups of coffee are too many? Since you are reading this, the incident prompting this essay hit the one too many mark.

In some ways, the matter started innocently enough. Something was shared, and this individual shared something similar. Another person chimed in with a post that could have been taken the wrong way, in today’s world. It could have been considered a trigger or even a bit of micro-aggression, if one was inclined to look at it in that way. It was immediately followed up with a similar comment.  Then, the person in question commented that the remarks were judgmental, inappropriate and uncivil.

One party attempted to explain what they meant. The offended party would have none of it. As owner of that page, this writer interceded with a comment based on experience with issues such as this, and the offended party responded rather tersely one was welcome to his or her opinion, but opined there were too many uncivil comments coming from certain classes of people on social media today.

The sadly interesting part of this little dialogue was the offended party assumed the two individuals causing the offense were conservatives, possibly right-wing bigots. At least his closing remarks referenced two such groups, just before he attempted to cut off any further discussion.

In reality, one of the people he criticized is likely as liberal politically as he is. She is certainly on the same page with a number of positions he holds.  Yet, as people are sometimes wont to do, he struck out based on one comment that triggered something in him.

I thought long and hard about how to deal with the matter. Normally, if there were hope of smoothing some ruffled feathers I might have sent a conciliatory message of some sort. I also considered sending a less than conciliatory admonition calling attention to the fact that he regularly shared items on his Facebook page that many people would find offensive or uncivil. In fact, it is clear he recognizes the questionable nature of the items.  When he shares such posts or memes, he includes disclaimers such as, “Don’t shoot the messenger,” or “I’m just passing this along.”

In the end, the decision was made to cut ties with him. The decision was not made lightly, and not without a good deal of internal debate. We have known each other for more than thirty years. We worked together, volunteered together, broke bread together, and attended church together over the years. We’ve also disagreed occasionally, and I am certain we have both felt at times the other one was more than a little off base. So, one might ask, why cut ties now?

The short answer to that question is simple. The individual in question was no longer trustworthy, and maintaining a relationship was not beneficial to either of us. This is said based on many years of experience in crisis intervention, mediation, and what is now called life coaching. If a person is not trustworthy, any attempt to maintain a relationship with that individual is risky at best, foolish or dangerous at worst.

If you are still reading at this point, you likely had one of several reactions to this piece and the last paragraph. You might be thinking, what took you so long to dump this yahoo? Or, you might be thinking, that’s not very Christian of you. A third option might be the question, what gives you the right to judge this person?

Those are all good questions.  Questions I hope to answer in Part II of this analysis.  Until then, feel free to email your thoughts on what you’ve read to this point.

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