After years of watching me emotionally rush headlong into one crisis after the next, she finally stuck her foot out and tripped some sense into me. Out of sheer exasperation, she offered up one of the most poignant and valuable pieces of advice I ever took to heart. Beyond a doubt, it's kept me out of a great deal of trouble over the years and saved me a lifetime of grief.
For about a week now, I've been typing away at my desk, keeping my head down and trying really hard to ignore an invitation to a good fight. There's a heated debate going on that has literally instigated a “column war” in all the news offices. Seems a coach from a nearby high school landed himself in a bit of a legal snafu for praying with his football team and taking them to church and encouraging them to go to a “Christian” camp.
He's being “called out” by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group that strongly advocates “separation of church and state.” You don't have to be a local or even a genius to know the whole thing is going over like a lead balloon here in the buckle of the Bible Belt.
One of my co-workers, (a devout, conservative, Southern Baptist) fired off a staunch attack in his column against the “faith-stealers,” imploring his fellow Christians to “stand up for prayer.” Fair enough. His column. His beliefs.
I barely had time to refresh the website before two journalists from our sister paper countered with rebuttal columns with very opposing views. One writer is an atheist. The other is Jewish. Both had excellent arguments. All three writers maintained a respectable level of professionalism.
Right on cue, after reading all the columns, I started empathizing with all parties involved. I started doing that “bouncy” thing, getting emotionally involved in something that would honestly have very little impact on my life. I got sucked into the madness and began formulating a column in my head to match wits with several key elements of the issue.
But also right on cue, much to my relief, my friend's words began to echo in my mind. “Just walk away,” I heard her say. “You don't have a dog in this race,” she reasoned silently. So that's exactly what I did. I stepped away from the situation. I chose not to participate.
I suppose to my Christian friends, such a passive move might be construed as a “cop-out,” or sinfully lukewarm. To a political activist, I'd probably be considered a lobbyist's nightmare for my lack of conviction to pursue the justification of some inalienable right that got breached somewhere in the mix. Religion and state is a serious thing. It's a big issue.
Regardless, I'm not biting this time. If I didn't love debate and voicing my opinion, I wouldn't be a writer or a reporter, but I think part of being a good journalist is discerning which fights you want to personally attend...which rabbits to chase down the path...when to be “up in arms” and when to fold the cards. Besides, if we all tried to stand on the same soapbox, it would get very crowded and make for monotonous reading, quickly.
Choosing my battles wisely in my personal life is probably even more pertinent. There are people in my life whose opinion I cherish and nurture, but if I got tangled up in every wrongdoing and every injustice that blew down the gossip pike, I'd have my hands full and my mind occupied with rubbish all day long. My daddy calls that “borrowing trouble.” Heaven knows I run into enough of that all on my own.
So this time I'm just going to sit back and watch the sparks fly and let the other guys “duke it out.” Just because I can. Because as important as all the hoopla seems to be, I still have other news articles to write, supper to cook and piles of laundry to do. And there's nothing I can do about that poor coach's legal matters on a regular old Tuesday, from my desk. That's his particular cross to bear.
I'm quite certain my co-workers will all settle down in a pair of minutes and get back to reporting the next newsworthy story that warrants attention. Whether it's a juicy lead on breaking news or a mundane notice for the community calendar, some spicy debacle will filter to the top and ruffle everybody into an uproar. As regular as rain. Another argument is always around the corner, waiting on an RSVP from everyone.
Maybe you don't struggle with invitations. Good for you if you don't. But just in case you do, consider this your permission from this day forward to refrain once in awhile. To just say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Because sometimes it's really okay to take a look but decide not to touch...to stay your previous course. Choosing your personal focus is always perfectly acceptable. Because you don't have to go to every fight you're invited to. Because my friend Kathie Simpson said so.
Sherry Dee Allen is a reporter for The Catoosa County News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 706-935-2621.