RERUN: Op-Ed: Where everybody knows your name

January 28, 2011
[Reprinted from June 2010]
by Olga Seham

I’ve been reading the on-line comments about the Greeley graduation speeches and some of those comments – especially the anonymous ones – strike me as a little bit ugly, kind of hot-tempered and snarky.

They put me in mind of one of my husband’s favorite stories.  It’s a story about how being known – not being anonymous – makes you a little more careful about what you say and do.  My husband will be so mad I’m using his material, but since he’s away, here I go.

About ten years ago at a softball game, my husband slid into third base.  His body kept sliding, but the base and his foot stayed put.  His ankle was shattered.  It was a long recovery, but once the doctor okayed it, my husband, still with bandage and cane, resumed driving.  But now, he drove really cautiously, by that I mean he drove at the speed limit.  One Sunday morning, the driver behind us on Route 120 wasn’t too happy about this.  He was on our tail, flashing his brights.  My husband, partly because of his condition and partly because he is stubborn, refused to speed up.  The tailgater would not slow down. 

“That’s it,” my husband said.  He stuck his hand out the window and gestured to the side of the road.  He pulled over and the tailgater did the same.  As both drivers prepared to get out of their cars, I braced for the worst.  I didn’t think there would be bloodshed (this is not New York City after all), but I knew there would be a barrage of profanity from both sides (I mean, this is Westchester).  My husband emerged with his cane.  The tailgater emerged already spewing, “What the . . .”

And then he stopped.  He looked at my husband.  He shut his mouth.  He looked down, and then, to his credit, he looked my husband in the face and stammered, “Um, I know you.  You’re from my church. . .  Um, um, sorry about this.” 

My husband recognized the other man too and shut his own mouth.  Then, taking a deep breath, he tried for some measure of grace. “That’s okay.”

Both men, chastened, got back in their cars and drove very gingerly all the way home. 

Anonymity lets you let it all hang out.  By contrast, knowing the people around you and being known by them makes you suck it up.  It makes you stop a beat before you open your mouth or start to type.  It makes you part of a community, which doesn’t stifle debate, but makes you more thoughtful about how you conduct it.  And since I’m stealing everyone’s material today, I’ll just say I think that’s a good thing.

Olga T. Seham lives in with her husband, two sons and canine daughter.
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Related articles in today’s edition of NCNOW:

NEW: Editorial: Will I put my name on this, and if not, why not?”, January 28, 2011, by Susie Pender, Editor, NCNOW.org

NEW: Letter to the Editor: The impact of anonymity in editorial comments in NewCastleNOW, January 28, 2011, by Hildy Sheinbaum

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