Simple enough. But another one of her rules really required me to do some thinking.
“Why ask why?” she said.
At first, I thought I was in an old beer commercial. But then she explained it to me.
“Say someone comes up to you on the street out of nowhere and punches you in the gut?” she asked. “What would you think?”
“Well,” I thought, “I guess I’d want to know why.”
“Really? Why ask why?”
She want on to make her point: would there be any possible good answer? Any words that could make the pain stop? Anything that would make me say, “Oh, that’s why you sucker-punched me. I get it now. Gee, thanks. Now, my stomach’s not hurting.”
Of course not. There is no justifiable answer to “Why did you cheat on me?” or “Why did you rob me?”
There’s also no justifiable answer to last month’s terror attacks in Paris, no justifiable answer to last month’s domestic terror incident in Colorado Springs, Colo., and no justifiable answer to Tuesday’s mass shooting in San Bernadino, Calif.
The Colorado attack got less publicity than the other two, but on Black Friday, a man attacked a Planned Parenthood office and killed three people. Before the shooting on Tuesday it had been in the news more for the back-and-forth arguing between the left and the right, both of whom blamed each other for what many agree was an act of domestic terrorism.
To which, I say: why ask why? We still have three people dead. And according to Jeff Teague, the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, we still have “especially aggressive” protests at Planned Parenthood facilities.
We still have political tension in this country that seems to escalate almost hourly — and we’re still almost two months away from the first votes being cast in the 2016 presidential election.
And we’re fighting a foe in the Islamic State that only seems to thrive off that tension.
Not only is it high past time for this nation to dial down the corrosive rhetoric, but it’s high time for us to step up our game.
When we try to answer “why,” it seems like all we can do is label. Whether it’s “radical Islamic terrorism” or “radical fundamentalism” or “gun nuts” or “gun grabbers” or whatever the bumper-sticker phrase of the day, it doesn’t do anybody any good to make lame attempts to categorize each other.
So not only are we asking the wrong question, we’re making lazy attempts to attempt to provide an answer.
I certainly don’t have a monopoly on wisdom, but I’m pretty sure that for this country to bridge the ever-widening divides in this country, we’re going to have to learn to compromise, seek common ground where it’s available and respect each others’ differences.
That will require each of us to do our independent critical thinking — regardless of whether you’re a member of Fox News’ or MSNBC’s flock. Or even if your political du jour is something even more polarized.
It’s not what we’ve been trained to do. It’s much easier to sit back and hurl labels at each other and make accusations we might think are true, believe videos we might think haven’t been doctored and believe media reports and blogs that are designed more for the sake of garnering an audience than getting at the truth.
But we can’t afford not to make the effort.
Democracy without forethought leads to fascism.
Remember one of my friend’s other rules: somebody’s got to be the grown-up.
It might as well be you.
Dean Fox, the news editor of The Lebanon Democrat, has been a practicing grown-up for a while now. It’s proof practice doesn’t always make perfect. At any rate, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him on Twitter @wilsoncoreports.