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Age of Contempt

Age of Contempt

Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, recently commented that Americans don't have an anger problem with one another as much as having contempt for one another. We see it in politics, but do we really have contempt for one another in our daily life?

That troubles me.

Then I saw it happen. I was on the bus heading to the Seattle ferry. My fellow passengers included a business man with a briefcase, a couple about my age with large suitcases, presumably on their way to the airport for a vacation getaway, and a teen boy. Halfway there, the boy, who'd chosen the back seat, lit a cigarette. The smell quickly wafted through the air. The bus driver asked over the intercom if that was cigarette smoke he smelled. He pulled over.

The driver walked down the aisle to the source of the smoke, and sternly, but calmly asked the boy if he'd been smoking. "No Sir." The boy lied, but responded respectfully. The older man sitting nearby, grumbled loud enough for all to hear, "Yeah, right."

The driver adamantly told the boy that it was against state and federal law to smoke on the bus and that he wouldn't kick him off forty miles from his destination, but he wouldn't be able to come back on the bus. With that, the driver returned to his seat and continued on.

Apparently unsatisfied with the bus driver's approach to this situation, the older man looked back at the boy and called him a "f....... idiot ". The boy responded with similar expletives and then the man unleashed on him, finishing by telling the teen that he was a complete loser.

Now I know what Arthur Brooks meant. The driver had a reason to be angry. But he showed no contempt. However, the older passenger, who had no reason to get involved, chose words that would make the boy feel bad about who he was. His words cut and I'm sure they went deep. Even though the boy put on a tough act, he's still a boy inside.

So maybe we do have a problem with contempt. And in many ways it's worse than anger, for contemptuous words are designed to inflict lasting wounds that leave scars.

When we arrived at our destination, and the vacationing couple had walked towards the ferry, I waited for the boy to disembark. I smiled and asked him if he was stranded without a bus ride home.

Wary of another potentially abusive adult, he shook his head no. "Are you sure?" I asked quietly. He looked me in the eyes and said he'd call his uncle. I smiled and said I hoped he'd be okay. I said it like I meant it.

What I hope is that he knows some people really do care. Wouldn't it be nice if kindness ruled again?