Sometimes, teaching by example teaches nothing

Judy Markey

November 21, 1990|By Judy Markey | Judy Markey,United Feature Syndicate

THIS IS ABOUT taking a stand on a moral issue.

And then untaking it.

And then saying to yourself, "What a fabulous lesson this will be for my children. To watch me, an actual adult, acknowledge that I was initially wrong about an ethical quandary. To see that I am capable of listening to the other side, reflecting on it and admitting that I could no longer defend my original position. Boy, is that one swell lesson, or what?"

This sure is what Philip thought would happen when, after serious reflection and angst, he did a 180 on a stand he had been defending for the past two weeks. The stand was a Preserving the Serenity and Integrity of Our Neighborhood stand. Which is always a rather tricky stand considering that most of us live on a block where there may be occasional wild parties at one house, barking dogs at another house or screaming babies at another house. Because when you live in a neighborhood, everyone's lives spill over a bit into everyone else's. It's the downside of not being J. Paul Getty. And while you'd rather not have somebody's Doberman yowling at 10 p.m. or somebody's teen-agers screeching into the driveway every weekend at 2 a.m., few of us would turn it into a major confrontation, unless the situation reached crisis proportions.

But apparently a crisis was brewing in Philip's neighborhood. Which is the reason the person came to Philip's door two weeks ago with a petition. Because there was indeed on Philip's otherwise rather tidy block one home that was ramshackley beyond belief. The paint had peeled off, and the people had been saying for years that they'd fix it up. But nothing was being done. The problem was not economic -- the people had recently been to Europe and bought a new car. And the problem was not time -- two neighbors had even volunteered to help the people paint it. The problem was simply that the people in the house didn't feel like painting it.

So the petition person came around, discussing things like eyesores and taxes and property values. And Philip nodded in agreement. Because like his neighbors, he genuinely wished those people would paint their house too. Philip signed the petition. Harumph. Harumph.

And then he started thinking about it. About how his entire life he'd always fancied himself something of a live-and-let-live kind of a guy. And how he and his wife had raised their children to not judge other kids or adults based on their appearance. And how one of the fundamental tenets of his life had been the freedom to choose -- no matter what the issue was. Whether it be abortion or listening to 2 Live Crew or wearing fur.

So how could he defend his stand? His teen-age daughter wanted to know. And his wife wanted to know. And some of his friends wanted to know. And every time they'd ask, he'd say stuff like "eyesore" and "taxes" and "property values." But each time he said it, he was less and less happy about how he sounded.

So after a couple of sleepless nights, he decided not to sound like that anymore. And he decided to get his name off the petition. And he felt pretty good about it. And he couldn't wait to tell his daughter in particular about it. About that big life lesson that it's never good to be intractable about something; that it is always important to continue to listen and reflect and learn; and that it's never too late to say you have made a mistake. Boy, Philip couldn't wait to hear what she'd say once she heard.

Actually, he could have waited. Because, when presented with this wonderful life lesson, his daughter said precisely what any moderately normal, moderately snotty, all-American teen-ager would have said. What she said was this: "You shouldn't have signed it in the first place."

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