About a hundred years ago (okay, maybe more like thirty-five) I was on the executive of the village of Andrew’s Chamber of Commerce. We were a small but enthusiastic group of business and like-minded people. We actively worked to help the village grow, or at the least to slow the losses. Anyone old enough to remember knows there have always been losses (think creamery, lumber yard, grain elevators, optometrist office, pharmacy, full-time RCMP detachment, et cetera). We organized events like a snowmobile poker rally.
During that time of working to make things better there was an act of public vandalism, buildings spray-painted with graffiti. I, among others, was angry, disappointed, and confused by the senselessness of willfully damaging someone else’s property.
I had a platform in the media. As the organization’s secretary I had an intermittent column in a couple of area newspapers to bring Chamber news to the public. Armed with the arrogance of (relative!) youth and that platform, I wrote about the crime spree. Somewhere in my tear sheets I’m sure I’ve still got the column.
Here’s what I know. Like anyone, I was within my rights to express my opinion and outrage as long as I did it truthfully. I did. Because the perpetrators were unknown no names were ever mentioned.
What happened next shocked me. Angry letters to the editor appeared. The community was divided into those who believed it was a foolish and destructive act we shouldn’t have to stand for and those who defended the act of misguided kids. Someone threatened me with the prospect of an impending call from Eddie Keen who was a fierce some and influential radio personality on CHED at the time. The RCMP was also investigating.
Luckily, soon after this backlash I was heading to a week-long retreat at Olds College with my young son. The distance was welcome. I was sick and saddened by the firestorm I’d created. I was so sure I was coming down on the side of right, the no-brainer response to something that happened in my town, a town I was contributing to in several positive ways.
As I sought to understand and learn from this experience I did some soul-searching. Yes, the facts of the event and the column were true. What I hadn’t considered was that the guilty parties were someone’s kids or grandkids. What I didn’t know then, but have since seen over and over again, is that some will always defend bad behaviour rather than allow the natural, expected consequences of an action to unfold, as it should. Consequences that would (hopefully) serve as a life-altering, character building experience; the immutable universal law called cause and effect.
The good news is that I learned we are only answerable for our own actions, not those of our kids or spouse or coworkers or relatives. The bad news is that I’m less likely to take a public stand pro or con about anything that really matters. This many years later I’m not sure that was the desired outcome, from where I sit.
Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites.