I don’t remember the airline or where the flight was headed. But I will never forget the woman seated next to me.
During the course of our brief conversation, I mentioned that my family lives in Orange Beach, Alabama. Her eyebrows furrowed as she received that fairly innocuous information. Without hesitation, however, she said, “I wouldn’t live there in a million years.”
I was taken aback, but smiled gamely, and asked, “Really? Why’s that?”
I was silent for a beat or two, looking into the woman’s eyes, mentally scrambling to figure out what I had missed. She also continued to look at me, waiting I suppose, for a response. When none tumbled from my lips, she leaned in my direction somewhat aggressively and as if she were talking to an idiot, being forced to explain something obvious and simple, said, “The Rain. Your rain. It rains all the time in Orange Beach. I could never live in a place like that.”
I nodded as if I understood and asked how many times she had been to Orange Beach.
“Twice,” she told me. “Once for three days and another time for a whole week. We never saw the sun shine. It rains constantly in Orange Beach.”
I’ve thought about that woman off and on for years. It was such a ridiculous exchange that I’ve never really decided if it was funny or just stupid.
Obviously, it rained the only two times she ever visited. Now, I don’t study weather patterns, I don’t know Jim Cantore, and I haven’t stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in a long time, but I’m fairly certain that it rains every day somewhere! In a lot of places, I’ll bet it even rains for a week at a time! And who, over the age of six or seven, has not seen it rain during a vacation?
Yeah, I’m sorry, but for a person to single out a week and a half and believe they can accurately extrapolate the cloud and moisture conditions that visitors to Orange Beach can expect for the rest of forever…is nuts. It’s beyond nuts.
We allow the media to dictate what we believe is “happening everywhere.” In print, online, and on television, we allow our fears to be stoked and our thoughts to be directed. By consuming “overlarge” portions of what they are serving, we encourage the news media’s overwhelming coverage of All Things Horrible.
Understand, I am not blaming the media for what they do or how they do it. I’m not even suggesting they do anything differently. Would it have any effect if I did? (The correct answer is “no”.)
Neither am I suggesting that racial anger, regional bias, political selfishness, or deranged behavior do not exist. But if you and I begin our day with the news and check in on the news several times during the day, then end our day with the news, it doesn’t take long for us to become convinced that what we see in the news is an accurate portrayal of society. And it’s not.
Consider the fact that there are 19,519 towns and cities in America today. There are another 16,360 unincorporated townships. We have a population of 326 million people. All those people have access to multiple channels and online entities. They are available to us 24-hours a day. And they use those twenty-four hours every single day to keep us “informed” about exactly what is happening—not just in America, but in the whole world…
Shouldn’t there be at least enough bad stuff to fill twenty-four hours without repeating the same things again and again?
But as far as I can tell, when something crazy happens, not only does every channel “break” the same news, they “report” it over and over for days on end.
Look, we do care about what’s happening nationally. You and I care about race relations and politics and schools and statues and prison reform and the Boy Scouts and killer lettuce and whatever the heck that goofy looking psycho in North Korea will do next…
But I have to believe that you and I would rather put more time and constructive thought into our own families and communities. Yet, even those subjects—when they are mentioned at all—are delivered by most of our national media drenched with the overarching message: People who are different from each other in visible ways do not get along.
My point is a simple one. I’m convinced that we get along better than some folks would have us think. I’ve been watching this whole thing for quite a while now. I travel extensively and am through airports, in hotels, visiting cities, their suburbs, and exploring small towns.
I don’t always fly. I drive—sometimes long distances—and stop often to talk with the people I meet. I’ve spoken to and talked with the students on more than 400 college campuses, eaten at great restaurants, not so great restaurants, and locally favorite restaurants in every corner of this nation.
I have spoken to audiences in all fifty states and each of our nation’s territories. I have spoken to convention halls filled with men and arenas with thousands of women. I have spent time with the men and women who serve on military installations around the world.
I have watched people pull together during times of enormous stress. I have witnessed families with nothing to spare, give generously to families with nothing at all.
And after all that, I must say that I’m not sure why the media appears so determined to convince us that we do not get along…(the only possible answer is “ratings”) but assuming their efforts will not stop, we need to recognize the effect it has on us and at least stop bathing in the information.
We understand what drives television ratings. We know what sells newspapers. I wonder however, if we understand the strategy the media employs in order to attract enough viewers to stay on the air?
There is one major rule governing that strategy and it is this: If there is no large and wide-spread amount of anger and outrage to show the public, we will seek out the largest that can be found at the moment. Even if the only anger and outrage we find is a small and contained amount, with proper camera angles and specific wording by the reporter, it can be presented as an example of “what is happening everywhere.”
Except that it’s not.
What is happening almost everywhere? Folks are being polite. They are being considerate. Yes, especially in the south.
I was checking out of the Bay Minette, Alabama Wal-Mart last week. As the cashier scanned my items, a forty-ish year old guy in a ball cap leaned around me, apologized for the interruption and spoke to the cashier. The following, word for word, is exactly what each of them said to the other.
Man: Excuse me, ma’am. When you get a chance, I need some help in the Photo department.
Cashier: Sure. (She turns to speak to a manager several lines away…) Miss Dana! Miss Dana, there’s a gentleman who needs help in Photos.
Man: (walking away) Thank you, ma’am.
Cashier: You’re welcome, sir.
I have to say, I smiled. I was proud of us. Yeah, us. You know…America. The South. Alabama. Baldwin County. Bay Minette. Us!
Oh sure, I was proud of the cashier and the man. But they are us. It is, after all, how most of us act. Especially in Orange Beach. Even when it rains.
One more thing about the cashier and the man in the ball cap…. Seeing them act with such respect towards each other really made my day. It crossed my mind to hug them. But I didn’t. I didn’t even know their names…
So I just took their picture. For US!