Over Easy: You may be right


For the Valley News

Published: 05-12-2023 7:50 PM

I am more of a wise guy than a wise man, but I have picked up a little wisdom along the way. The great thinkers drink deep; I took in the learnings of the ancients with a sippy cup.

Too little time was spent on the meaning of life. Too much on “how about those Red Sox?”

And still, about seven or eight years ago, I came up with an idea that has stayed with me and served me well.

At the time, I was editorial page editor of a daily newspaper located in West Lebanon — you may know it — and the job involved dealing with people with a wide range of viewpoints.

When I first sat in the editor’s chair (in keeping with a great newspaper tradition, it was a little shabby), Donald Trump had yet to declare journalists enemies of the people.

Some conservative readers felt we were too liberal, but several used to call and chat about that from time to time.

A polite gentleman from Plainfield sincerely wanted to understand our thinking. Another called to thank me when we ran conservative political cartoons. He said it was brave to break from liberal orthodoxy. I said we were independent, had our differences with Democrats and felt obligated to reflect varied views.

It was more or less respectful. They seemed more or less satisfied.

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Now and then someone wasn’t. Maybe we didn’t run the headline they submitted with their letter to the editor. We always wrote our own, to “better serve the readers,” or because we were trained professionals and in the end it was our ink, press and paper. Or we were full of ourselves. The writer insisted his was better.

After decades in the business of publishing timeless prose on paper that fades and crumbles, I could be defensive. I could over-explain. But one time in a minor dispute about something like this I blurted out, “You know, you may be right.”

I don’t know if those words disarmed the critic — I think they did — but they immediately lifted a burden from my shoulders. I didn’t have to justify every editorial decision back to Gutenberg’s press.

Saying “You may be right” means I don’t have to defend myself from every sling and arrow if they are merely metaphorical. (Otherwise, duck!) It is also an admission that I’m imperfect. I could be insufficiently open-minded. I may not have thought an issue through.

There is a dollop of humility in this, a pinch of “I don’t agree, but I will think about your point,” a heaping portion of respect for the other person.

One of the things that has gone wrong in our country is that “You may be right” has faded, almost to extinction.

It is often replaced by a mean, smug attack on the other side. They are not only wrong, but a cabal of evil-doers. They deserve scorn and hate.

To the extent that I have been touched by such thinking, I am trying to let it go. I am pretty sure this is better for my outlook, that is, mental health. Anger is a choice. Why wear toxin-tinted glasses?

But your principles can be tested.

Recently, after I wrote a column making light of Justice Clarence Thomas’ free vacations, I found a different sort of email in my spam folder, amidst a greeting from Prince Rassaq Rasmane, an investment proposal from Mrs. Aisha-Al Gaddafi, and a brief inquiry from Mr. Blessed Eme.

This one, without a subject line, got right to the point.

“You’re an (expletive),” it said. The redacted word rhymes with brass pole.

There was nothing else, but the email had a footer with a name and phone number. An online search suggested the writer is from the Upper Valley.

I was somewhat taken aback. When I am called something that rhymes with brass pole, I’d appreciate some context. Was it something I wrote? Or just me, generally?

I thought of responding, perhaps in kind, but there is a major school of thought that says there is no good that can come from that.

Still, I had some happy moments thinking of witty responses that didn’t even make the draft folder. Among them:

■ My wife just said the exact same thing!

■ Next time you insult me, sir, I expect a decent complimentary close, such as Sincerely, or perhaps Warmly.

The real problem is that I have committed myself to the “You may be right” way of thinking. This has put me in a tough spot. If I really am a you-know-what, then what?

Reform? Retire? Don the red hat?

Or keep calm and carry on, as the (expletive deleted) I may be?

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.