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When we got into my husband’s car this morning, a cute but older Nissan, the battery groaned in pain. It’s been very cold for Florida (mornings in the 40s) and we don’t drive his car very much. After a couple of tries, the battery finally kicked in and the car started and we were off to do grocery shopping.
After finishing our shopping, it didn’t occur to us that we hadn’t run the battery enough. This time it didn’t moan; it just coughed and died. We sat there quietly for a moment, and then my husband got out of the car resignedly and looked under the hood. At that moment, a couple in a large white truck pulled in the space directly opposite ours, and when they exited their car—a young woman and a smiling, robust young man—my husband approached and asked if the fellow could give him a jump. The man agreed with a smile, and my husband pulled out his jumper cable. I saw him speak to the man, who frowned slightly, then smiled and they got the battery going. Meanwhile, they exchanged a few friendly words before Jerry got into the car and the young man went to join his wife in Publix.
It wasn’t until an hour later that Jerry told me that he’d almost made a faux pas! When he handed the jumper cable to the young man, he said, “black is negative.” (Jerry loves to speak in shorthand.) Well, you may have guessed, the young man was black. He may have hesitated for a couple of reasons: was Jerry referring to the color of his skin? Was he surprised that Jerry felt the need to tell him which charger was which? Or was it something else?
We’ll never know.
There were a few points we gleaned from the situation. First, we have become hypersensitive about our use of language. Even though we say we’re not going to worry about offending anyone, it would have been an ill-timed insult. Second, was the man wondering what Jerry meant? There was a time when we wouldn’t have given the situation a second thought.
But I miss the time when we, as decent, polite people didn’t worry about parsing our words at the risk of not just hurting feelings, but possibly triggering a negative reaction. What has happened to the time when we gave people the benefit of the doubt? Why can’t we just appreciate the young man’s generosity and help, and not give the incident a second thought?
I don’t like where we have arrived.Published in