I’m not trying to pat myself on the back. But over the years, I’ve developed a capacity for something that my younger self, as a cub reporter, would never believe possible: I can listen to someone rant and rave about nearly anything, and still keep my big yap shut.
For the most part.
As a budding journalist, you’re constantly reminded by mentors and elders that objectivity is a hallmark of the craft. You are not the story, just the conduit, the vessel, the messenger. Keep your views to yourself, unless you’re writing an opinion piece or column.
There were times early on when I wasn’t too adept at that and had to throw my two cents in when interviewing someone, sometimes rather forcefully. That’s an attribute of youth and inexperience.
Over time, I’ve gotten better at it. A prime example was several years ago when those wacko folks from the Westboro Baptist Church were hurling anti-Semitic epithets at me and others during their protest in front of the Jewish Museum of Maryland. That wasn’t easy. Professionalism prevented me from pummeling them. I felt a little bit like Jackie Robinson in his first year of Major League Baseball, just taking in all of the bigoted barbs. (Well, that may be overstating things quite a bit.)
The other day, I had another experience, not anywhere near as bad, when I managed to contain my inner hothead, much to the surprise of my colleagues. A very pleasant but outraged and outspoken 78-year-old woman called to complain about Jmore’s August cover story on the Black Lives Matter movement.
“How could you? What were you thinking?” she asked. “Why in the world was that on the cover?”
After identifying herself as a native of a small town in the South who moved here at the age of 10, the woman also kvetched bitterly about Chizuk Amuno Congregation’s recent decision to post a Black Lives Matter sign on the front of their campus
“I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors,” she said. “Nobody helped us during the Holocaust. Why are we trying to help anyone?”
I bit my lip. Hard.
“I wouldn’t give [Chizuk Amuno] a nickel. People are quitting in droves, did you know that?”
I bit my lip again but said I actually heard that while some congregants were displeased, many expressed pleasure with the synagogue’s decision regarding the sign. They felt it was a bold, courageous stand.
“Yes,” she shot back, “those kind of people are known as dumb Jews.”
Yet again, I bit my lip. Painfully so.
She went on to condemn Black Lives Matter as “an anti-Semitic, Marxist movement that hates Israel,” as well as Democrats who “are burning down and destroying our cities.” She also had harsh words for the protesters who’ve taken to the streets around the country to rally against racial injustice and police brutality.
“They’re not protesting, they’re rioting and destroying!” she said, working herself into a frenzy. “They’re horrible, horrible people who want to destroy this country. Look, I grew up in the South and remember the Black people who protested back in the ‘60s. They were good people. These are not the same kind of people.”
At this point, I tried to remember that my parents taught me to always respect my elders. I’m not going to start arguing with someone who remembers when Jack Benny was a radio star.
She then went on to praise President Trump (“God bless him for everything he’s doing!”) and Fox News commentators Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.
“Do you watch Fox?” she asked, and before I could even answer sputtered, “Well, you should! They tell the honest truth.”
Realizing there was no point in trying to discuss or debate this matter in a reasonable fashion, I simply thanked the woman for calling and offering her feedback on our cover story and other matters. I also wished her and her family a happy and healthy new year.
She seemed satisfied that she got everything off her chest and was heard, and wished me well.
Sometimes that’s all it takes, to simply listen to a person and be civil and not let yourself get drawn into a vitriolic exchange, something that’s increasingly rare these days in our society.
A worthy, healthy goal for the new year. But I must admit, it ain’t always easy.