All Sides of All Things
Once many years ago when I was more young, and by far more foolish, I remember reading an article in the newspaper about a train conductor (are they still really called that? Am I dating myself?) who was suing for emotional distress a protester whose legs had been severed by the train he was driving. I didn’t yet know what emotional distress or post traumatic stress disorder felt like. I didn’t know much. In reading the newspaper at all I was reading over my head.
So immediately I made a derisive comment aloud to my father about the gall of the conductor for suing the now legless man. My father checked my naive arrogance and checked me good. He explained to me that had I read the entire article I would know that the protester was well aware that the train could not possibly stop in time yet he decided anyway to make his point by laying himself across the tracks, knowing he’d lose his legs. He somehow did not or could not take into consideration the effect it would have on the conductor. He was not protesting the conductor. I forget what he was actually protesting.
But the conductor had to live the rest of his life with the horror of what he had seen and relive the terror of watching his train rapidly approaching the man lying across the tracks without the ability to stop it. So I switched the object of my reproach to the protester; snorting with derision from my other nostril perhaps, to which my father begged me to consider that if people did not protest things then how would they be heard and how would change be effected and pointed out all the good that has been accomplished by past protests. So I asked what good would suing the now legless protester do? I forget the exact reply but it had something to do with also being heard and sending a message about the how and why of protesting and the effects of such protests on all involved including the innocent. I remember feeling duly shamed, and I learned the importance of gathering all of the facts before rushing to judgment, seeing all sides of things at all times and also of not being afraid to speak up.
I don’t even know if my father knew all the details but he took no sides, no stance on the article, but rather he defended all sides and taught me to acknowledge that without all the facts, a rush to judgment is imprudent, unfounded and potentially embarrassing.