17 May 2014

A Young Fellow, a Young Lady & A Workin’ Man: Hard Times Hillbilly Tales

I spend more time on the road at out-of-town courthouses these days than I do at the Marion County Courthouse.

I love experiencing the feeling of “home” in many courtrooms of small, real towns.

Most of my work these days is in a small, two-county circuit. This isn’t LA Law, nor is it Boston Legal. This is a place where people from the real world come to Court, real and with all of their blemishes. It’s a place where everyone really does search for the truth, search for solutions and try to learn from one another.

This week, I ran into a couple of fellows and a young woman around the Courts where I work. Each had lessons to learn and lessons to teach.

Many kinds of hearings are “closed,” or non-public.  To keep cases rolling, lawyers often go into the Courtroom to wait on their own cases to be called. While they wait, they may listen or work or read.

I was sitting in the jury room at the back of a Courtroom during such a hearing because that’s where the chairs, tables and power outlets are.  I only heard a little bit of the content of the hearing that was going on, except that it involved a young man and the hearing was not going well for him.

That hearing ended and some other case was called.  The bailiff brought the young man back to the jury room to wait for transportation somewhere, and they left him there with me. His own lawyer was in and out.

I started talking with this young man – I’ll call him Bart – not about his case or the law or anything legal, just a conversation between people – who he is, who I am, were he goes to school and so forth.

From the little I heard from his hearing and from my conversation with him, I wonder if this young fellow ever had been really listened to or really given thoughtful guidance – or even ever given a bit of human respect. I bet that he has largely been ignored throughout his life until his behavior got so out of whack that someone would suddenly flare, give him an order, and chastise him.

Well, there you have two common schools of thought about child rearing in action.

One is to give a child the maximum freedom to develop (often that means to ignore them). Then, you can depend on the youth’s environment – schools, friends, and those who profit by tempting kids – to give them the information and the philosophy (“values”) which they will use in life.

The other is the “wagon boss” school of thought.  There, a parent – any adult, really – “outranks” the kid.  So when an adult wants some specific behavior from the kid (often something which benefits the adult, not the kid), the adult gives orders. And orders are to be obeyed, dammit, because “I have the power to give orders and you don’t, Bart.”

Neither approach works well. Each is an example of high-contrast thinking – thinking in “black and white.”

There is some attraction to high-contrast thinking.  Mainly, it’s really easy. You declare your set of beliefs and filter everything through them rather than straining things through a brain. That eliminates thought and eliminates doubt:  “I’m right and you’re wrong.”

Often, the result of either kind of thinking or, especially, using both inconsistently, is what Bart experienced – a trip to Court with unpleasant consequences.

I only had a little while, maybe a half hour or so, to talk with Bart. This may not have been in the least significant to him. We talked about manhood and what honorable men do and believe. I happened to be reading a book on the subject, so I wrote out a quote and gave it to him:

Honorable men refuse to wallow in the small and bitter.
Honorable men refuse to hate life because something once went wrong.
Honorable men don't build monuments to their disappointments, nor do they let others brand them and curse them to their destruction.
Honorable men seek out the highest definition of their lives, the nobler meaning granted by heritage, by their ancestors’ dreams and their parents’ hopes.
Honorable men cry out to God until curses are broken and a grander purpose is achieved.
Honorable men don't settle for lives of regret.
[From Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men, by Stephen Mansfield and Gen. William Boykin (Thomas Nelson, 2013)]

He read this and we talked a bit about it.   Then, he folded the page and slipped it into his back pocket.

Was this significant to him?

In and of itself, probably not. Any young person needs a lot of ongoing information and encouragement on responsible behavior, on personal responsibility, on self-reliance, and on cheerful cooperation – and not in the form of orders.  Young people need reasoned discussions. Those are not always easy, because young people are naturally hardheaded at times.  (Remember your own youth?)   It’s a lot easier to ignore them or boss them than it is to engage them in genuine discussion. But ignoring them and bossing them aren’t very useful approaches.

Reasoned discussions may lead – we hope – to young people adopting responsible behaviors and attitudes, not because they were told to but because THEY decided that these make up the right way to live.

Reasoned discussion also recognizes that the perfect person has yet to be born. [I recognize one exception to that, but not all belief systems agree.]   And so everybody screws up.  It’s what you do with screwups that matters most of all.

We as the older people have a duty to “minister” to the young.   Sure, a lot of them will consider our opinions pure bushwah and go try out really stupid stuff.  And sometimes, just sometimes, they will try the teachings of others on for size and build their own strong lives.

If we give them that one brick at a time, they have the capacity to build on their own wall of a fulfilling life. But if  we don’t give them bricks, the wall will not appear.

When you lament, “What’s wrong with kids today?,” one answer you really need to consider is that “WE are what’s wrong with them.  WE have dropped the ball on our responsibilities as elders.”

The concept that “It takes a village” has gotten a bad rap. To some, it has come to represent some sort of collective form of uniformity and intolerance of individuality. But it does take a village, one responsible and individual elder at a time.

On the way out of town after Court, I ran into a young woman. I’ll call her Sarah. Sarah is a pleasant young lady who works at a convenience store counter. As I was going into the store, I met a good friend who is the chief bailiff of the Court. 

If Court where a church – and in some ways it is – he would be the Head Deacon, the person who supports the machinery and implements decisions, that all-important, always-ready “utility outfielder.”

When I went to the counter to buy a bottle of milk, Sarah asked, “Who’s that cop you were talking to?” So I explained who he is and what he does and who I am and what I do. It was a pleasant conversation. As she was giving me my change, I commented to her, “Miss, they are police officers, not “cops.” They consider that disrespectful. Everybody’s entitled to respect.” She stood silently for a moment, then in a perky voice replied, “Yeah, you’re right!”

Here again, I do not expect that one encounter will permanently modify any behaviors.  It’s just one brick. But that’s all we can give young people on any given day, that one brick. If enough of us do it and do it consistently, then we as a village will have given young people the bricks, the tools and the blueprints to build that wall.

The next day, I went back to the same town for a hearing in Family Court. There, I met a gentleman near my own age. This fellow is one of the Heart of America “Workin' Men.” These are folks who build what we buy, fix what we break and who use the strength of their bodies and the agility of their minds to keep everything going.

I represented this gentleman’s wife in a divorce and he was there without a lawyer. These were very nice people who were making the best of an unfortunate situation. They had made their own agreement, which just needed a tweak and written down.  After doing so, we were still outside the Courtroom waiting for our hearing. 

This gentleman and I began to talk about life and society and so forth. He had been laid off from a manufacturing job when a plant closed a few months ago. He is looking for work and trying to get by on $200 a week unemployment. He said if he could find a job for $210 per week, he would take it in a heartbeat. I believe him. This is what working people do. They work.

Another bailiff was there also chatting with us. He had a line on jobs in a factory from which he had retired. (Working as a bailiff is his retirement job.) The gentleman in the case said that he was going to drop off an application on his way out of town. I hope he gets that job.

We also talked about the relationship of older workers to younger workers. Older workers are a steadying influence. As a rule, they show up promptly at the beginning of their shift and work steadily all day. Also, older workers seem to work more safely and without taking dangerous shortcuts. Younger workers need these examples.

We also talked about the preference employers seem to give to the young in hiring. A common reason cited is that younger workers have better health, strength and energy as a rule. But this gentleman gave us a reason that I for one had never considered: The older worker is less afraid of the boss, particularly the boss who is abusive or who is prone to seek dangerous shortcuts.

So the mix of workers hired by a company says more about an employer that I ever considered.

Oh, why “Hillbilly Tales”?

That’s a nod to the late Jim Comstock. He was the editor and publisher of “The West Virginia Hillbilly.” That was a weekly (“weakly,” Jim called it) tabloid-size newspaper on events, society, culture and living in West Virginia. On the back page of every edition was Jim’s column. Seldom was it an “editorial.”  Usually, it was a pithy and reflective essay on life. Every couple of months, Jim wrote a column called simply “Hitchhiker.”

Comstock frequently picked up hitchhikers as he drove the back roads. He wanted to know new people from every walk of life. When he picked up someone with an interesting story or from whom he learned something or to whom he gave something – sometimes all three with the same person in the same column – he wrote about it.

I learned a lot from these columns. 

I still learn a lot from any kind of person. 

And I hope I give them something to.

We ARE all in this together.

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