REMEMBER CIVILITY...?

June 23, 2016
(Note: This is a slightly revised version of something I recently wrote and posted on Facebook, and then published as my weekly column in the June 23, 2016, edition of the Johnston County Capital-Democrat.)


I recently had a… well, I don't know that it actually rises to the level of being an honest-to-Jed Bartlett "epiphany," but it is darn sure something that bears being shared the rest of the world.  (And if it does qualify as an epiphany then I'm just tickled to death, because I don't know that I've ever had one of those before…)


The problem isn't guns. 


The problem isn't Donald Trump. 


The problem isn't radical Islam or radical Christianity or radical Buddhism. (Is there even such a thing as radical Buddhism?) 


The problem isn't that Zack Snyder makes crappy superhero movies or that people give George Lucas a hard time over his "Star Wars" prequels or that CBS keeps bringing back that stupid "Big Brother" every summer. 


The problem isn't that some misguided souls actually prefer Samantha to Jeannie or Ginger to Mary Ann or Veronica to Betty or Christian Bale to Adam West. 


The problem isn't that Kraft Foods screwed up a perfectly good Macaroni and Cheese Dinner (they did, you know, I don't care what their ads claim), or that I can't go to a White Castle or buy a six-pack of Canfield's Swiss Creme Soda anywhere here in Oklahoma. 


The problem isn't even that some people STILL need to learn how to use their turn signals, drive the speed limit and properly place their vehicle between the lines in the parking area here in front of the newspaper office.


Don't get me wrong. All of these things are problems. And I'll continue to speak out on each and every one of them whenever I think it necessary. 


But none of them are The Problem.


The Problem, it occurs to me, is that somewhere along the way we have forgotten that people can have an honest disagreement about something - anything - and yet still be civil and respectful and even friendly towards one another. 


My dear friend and co-worker, the late Gerry Ratliff, and I used to argue about politics all of the time. I'm a lifelong Democrat whose still agrees with my father that the date of Nixon's resignation should have been declared a national holiday; Gerry was a staunch, no-two-ways-about-it Republican who thought Ronald Reagan was just this side of The Second Coming. Sometimes our disagreements could get pretty vocal… to the point that our boss would sometimes be sitting over there at his desk in the corner with this expression of utter panic on his face, like a soldier looking for an ammunition truck to hide under.


But for all our disagreements, we never exchanged a harsh word about one another or launched personal attacks towards one another. We never called one another vile names, never spoke ill about the other behind his back, never made comments that someone might somehow construe as a thinly-veiled threat. We never questioned one another's right to hold an opinion that ran counter to our own, or questioned one another's intelligence, parentage or basic humanity because of a differing opinion. We never held a grudge towards one another.

And we always - ALWAYS - made sure that we let the other knew how much he was still loved and respected despite such disagreements.


One of my most cherished possessions is a "Thank You" note Gerry wrote to me shortly after his mother passed away. One line in that note can still bring tears to my eyes even today, so many years later: "You are very nearly another brother to me." 


I'm sitting here trying to not well up again as I look at the note. How I miss my dear old friend…


My point is, Gerry got it. You can have a difference of opinion with someone, can hold deep-seated convictions different from that other person's, and still respect, like, admire and - yes - even love them. And he, like me, could not understand why this simple truth seemed so elusive to so many other people.


Perhaps it's best that he didn't live to see what the world has become in the Age of Facebook. I think to say that he would be "appalled" would be an understatement of the highest magnitude…


At what point did we here in America become so polarized that we want to see anybody who does not share each and every opinion that we ourselves hold as The Enemy? When did we become so thin-skinned that our initial knee-jerk reaction to a person who sees things differently than we do is to just dismiss them as "ignorant?"


Understand: I'm not pointing any fingers here. We've all become guilty of this sort of behavior in recent years. Myself included from time to time, I'm ashamed to say, although some of us DO at least try to make an effort not to behave in such a fashion. I can't speak for anybody else, but I will admit that in my case this behavior seems to be some weird kind of self-preservation instinct; it doesn't seem to kick in until someone has launched a personal attack towards me, and then - in spite of my best efforts - I feel practically obligated to respond in kind. 


But I always come away from such instances angry at myself for having allowed that other person to suck me down to their level...


I'm not saying don't stand up for your beliefs. You should. You must. But do so with a modicum of respect for the other guy. Remember that he is every bit as entitled to his opinion as you are to yours. Stop treating him (or her) like some kind of sub-human monstrosity just because you don't see eye-to-eye on something. Even if that "something" may in fact be everything…


If nothing else, just try and remember that the other person IS a person, with people who love them just like you. 


And maybe - just maybe - if we can start treating one another with that little bit of respect, maybe we can start finding things we do happen to agree on and use those things as a foundation for building a sense of compromise, and that in turn might just enable us to start fixing some of the problems that plague this world we all share.


I'm not saying it's a sure thing. Nothing in life ever is. Believe me, I learned that particular lesson the hard way a long, long time ago.


But isn't it at least worth a try...?

(Copyright 2016 by John Allen Small)

 

ELEMENTARY, DEAR READER...

May 13, 2016

(NOTE: The following is a longer version of one of my recent newspaper columns.)


Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to become reacquainted with an old friend. A fellow I first met when I was a young boy and who became one of my most faithful companions as I was growing up. A gentleman who taught me about the importance of being observant, and of not allowing emotions to overpower logic - a skill I readily admit I have yet to master, though I continue to strive in that direction...


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MEMOIRS OF A BAT-FAN

January 15, 2016

MEMOIRS OF A BAT-FAN



In case you happened to miss it (you’d be surprised, it seems like there is always a few who somehow manage to not receive the memo), this past Tuesday marked an important milestone in the history of American popular culture. 


Well, it was important to some of us, anyway...


January 12 marked the 50th anniversary of the night that the television series Batman, starring Adam West and Burt Ward, premiered on the ABC television network (WLS-TV, Channel 7 in Chicago if y...


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HO, HO, HO...

December 23, 2015
(Above: Thomas Nast's depiction of Santa Claus for Harper's Weekly in the late 1800s; and my son Joshua playing Santa Claus in the 2014 Johnston County Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade, Tishomingo, Oklahoma.)



(Note: The following article was originally published in the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, Dec. 24, 1992. We re-published it in this week's issue as a Christmas gift to our readers, and I felt it was appropriate to share it here as well.)



He is one of the most recognized figures...


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IT COULD HAVE BEEN ME...

November 24, 2015
(Yours Truly in Greece, Spring 1985 - shortly before the events described below...)



It occurred to me, as I sat down at my keyboard just now to share the story I am about to tell, that I probably should have done so back in June. That month did, after all, mark the 30th anniversary of when it actually happened.


But for some reason I generally don’t think about it when the anniversary rolls around. The subject only seems to come to mind around this time of year. When I’m counting my blessi...


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WHEN DUTY AND BELIEFS CLASH...

September 10, 2015

I had not originally planned on commenting here about the controversy surrounding Kim Davis, the court clerk in Kentucky who was refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone because she disagreed with the U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year legalizing gay marriages. Not because I don’t have an opinion on the subject (come on, you know better than that) but, rather, because I'm actually kind of tired of listening to everyone else talk about it.


There had already been so much disc...


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HAPPY BIRTHDAY MR. BURROUGHS

August 31, 2015

Tomorrow, September 1, marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of my favorite author: Edgar Rice Burroughs, father of Tarzan, chronicler of Barsoom and Pellucidar, and the man whose stories helped teach me to read and made me want to become a writer myself. 


In celebration I thought it might be appropriate to share a poem in tribute to Burroughs that I wrote roughly 20 years ago now…



IN MEMORIAM: ERB


A Poem By John Allen Small



With simple words on paper

He drew a map that led me

On a ...


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SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT AWARDS...

August 26, 2015

One of the big news stories of the past week revolved around James Harrison, the pro football player who launched a national debate when he announced that he had made his young sons return sports participation trophies they had received because he felt they rewarded involvement, as opposed to actual accomplishment.


Harrison got a fair share of “atta boys” from certain corners, but he also caught no small amount of flack from others who apparently felt that his decision fell just short of...


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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION (A REVIEW)

August 12, 2015

This past weekend my wife and son Joshua and I went to see the fifth entry in the popular Mission: Impossible film series, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation


And just as was the case with the previous four movies, I came away with mixed feelings. 


On the one hand, it was a fun, entertaining, well-made film... probably the best one in the series so far, in fact, strictly in terms of overall entertainment value. Witty and reasonably intelligent, with strong performances all around and a bet...


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THE SURPRISE IN THE MAILBOX...

August 5, 2015

Every now and then something happens that makes me just sit back, scratch my head and wonder at what point the cosmic axis shifted so violently that I ended up in a world so different from the one I grew up in.


Case in point: 


Just before noon Tuesday, while putting together this week’s issue of the newspaper where I work as News Editor, I took a break long enough to walk across the street to the post office and retrieve my daily mail. One of the items I pulled out of the mailbox happened...


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About Me


John Allen Small John A. Small is an award-winning newspaper journalist, columnist and broadcaster whose work has been honored by the Oklahoma Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Press, the National Newspaper Association, and the Oklahoma Education Association. He and his wife Melissa were married in 1986; they have two sons, Joshua Orrin (born 1991) and William Ian (born 1996). Mr. Small is the News Editor and columnist for the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, a weekly newspaper headquartered in Tishomingo, OK. He obtained his nickname, "Bard of the Lesser Boulevards," from a journalism colleague - the late Phil Byrum - in recognition of the success of his popular newspaper column, "Small Talk." (In addition to the many awards the column itself has received over the years, a radio version of "Small Talk" earned an award for "Best Small Market Commentary" from the Society of Professional Journalists in 1998.) John was born in Oklahoma City in 1963; lived in the Bradley-Bourbonnais-Kankakee area of Illinois for most of the next 28 years (with brief sojourns in Texas and Athens, Greece, thrown in to break up the monotony); then returned to his native state in 1991, where he currently resides in the Tishomingo/Ravia area. He graduated from Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in 1981, and received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais in 1991. The years between high school and college were a period frought with numerous exploits and misadventures, some of which have become the stuff of legend; nobody was hurt along the way, however, which should count for something. In addition to his professional career as a journalist he has published two short story collections: "Days Gone By: Legends And Tales Of Sipokni West" (2007), a collection of western stories; and "Something In The Air" (2011), a more eclectic collection. He was also a contributor to the 2005 Locus Award-nominated science fiction anthology "Myths For The Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Universe," edited by Win Scott Eckert. In additon he has written a stage play and a self-published cookbook; served as project editor for a book about the JFK assassination entitled "The Men On The Sixth Floor"; and has either published or posted on the Internet a number of essays, stories and poems. He has also won writing awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Library of Poetry. He is a past president of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce in Tishomingo; was a charter member and past president of the Johnston County Reading Council, the local literacy advocacy and "friends of the library" organization; served as Johnston County's first-ever Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator in 1994-95; served two terms as chairman of the Johnston County (OK) Democratic Party; and has taught journalism classes for local Boy Scout Merit Badge Fairs. He is a member of the New Wold Newton Meteorics Society.
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