It's the political season and I simply can't help but think of how our nation could be better. I see, woven throughout our differences in this nation a fiber of pride and patriotism. Some folks try to claim these traits for their own, as others shun them, but the threads are deeply tangled and embedded. America is a nation we love, yet a nation we love to hate as well.
I struck up a conversation recently with a National Forest Ranger, which I like to do when the opportunity arises. I know it can be a stressful job, so I go out of my way to say "thanks". As we talked about his work as a ranger, Ryan, a polite young man, who was conducting a Forest Service survey alongside the road said, "a man just drove by and flagged me the bird". Ryan showed sadness as he spoke and in a hurt tone continued, "he doesn't even know me."
Why does anyone think this behavior is ok? Reacting to a person's job, color, age, or any other reason, by striking out in frustration, as happened to Ryan, is unkind. Was the finger waver acting out his perceived superiority or was he angry with feelings of impotence at a system too huge for him to understand? I don't know and can only guess at what motivated him to be rude. In his column once, years ago, George Will made the case that ethics would be well served if we would follow Miss Manners' rules of good social behavior.
Ryan told me, as the conversation changed topics, he would be better off working for the Department of the Interior rather than the Department of Agriculture. When I queried him about this I learned that each agency shares in the profits of its negotiated contracts and since BLM is doing oil contracts (up in sales) and Forest Service is doing forestry contracts (down in sales), their funding reflects this. Ryan's agency is experiencing grave budget shortages.
Both the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture, through their agencies, are responsible for managing public lands for varied uses. The agencies begin each day with conflicting goals as they set out to please all their constituencies, as well as supplementing their tax-short budgets. Talk about an untenable position. It seems like the system is designed in a way that pits one interest against another and leaves the agencies in a damned if they do or damned if they don't position.
The environmentalists get in a turmoil because the agencies are not doing enough to protect the land for wildlife; ranchers for grazing; miners for mining; foresters for logging; and recreation folks for each person's specialized interest. And none of this speaks to wildfire fighting, dams for electricity, road building, protection of Native American sacred sites or the multitudes of other urgent management issues. What we have is a swirling dervish type of mess.
A few days later I engage in a conversation with two Department of Interior employees. As I approached them I could feel their tension. When I held out my hand for a handshake and to deliver my customary thank you, I felt their tension melt. Criticism seems to be what is most typically directed at our government employees and they are skittish. I asked if I could take a photo and the man wielding the chainsaw said, "Let's see, I have my eye and ear protection, my chaps, boots and gloves. Sure, go ahead."
I am grateful for the work done by the agencies managing our public land and every time I step into a pit toilet, clean and with toilet paper, I am even more grateful. I'm angered by the man who flipped the bird at a young ranger, leaving no one feeling very good and resolving nothing. Our government isn't all bad, nor is corporate America all bad, nor are either all good. Both provide things we need and want, yet both require continual nudging as our world changes and power structures shift.
Easy answers will not be found...ever! But good manners would be an excellent place to start. We just might find polite behavior leads us to respectful conversation that just might lead us to finding solutions.
"Ideological differences are no excuse for rudeness."
~ Judith Martin, Miss Manners