For some people values are written solely in black and white. I believe that for most of us, though, it is the shades of gray that define our values.
The contrast of the black and white applied to values and actions is stark and harsh, but never harsher than when accusing another person of a perceived misdeed. In that case, there is no gray shading allowed to soften the glare.
The drastic contrast of black and white hurts our eyes, draws attention only to the difference between the colors. There is nothing that connects the two. No shades of gray to blend the hard edges.
Black or white. Yes or no. Right or wrong. Stark, harsh contrast between the two.
And so it was that when the story of the Clay County commissioner who was indicted for a Class A misdemeanor, the rightness or the wrongness of it was printed in black and white.
Stark and harsh. Yes or no. Right or wrong.
It was a stick picture version. Black and white. And read all over. With a mug shot beside the words.
Here are the stark details from the local newspaper:
Precinct 4 Commissioner (name of commissioner), has been indicted by a Clay County grand jury, charged with abuse of official capacity, a class A misdemeanor.
________ is believed to have had a county employee, using a county-owned backhoe, clean out a ditch along a private drive in Precinct 4 on April 1, 2011, to benefit the owner of the property, located on B. Davis Road. The property is owned by (name of taxpaying citizen) who is disabled.
The property described in the indictment is not owned by ________.(The commissioner)
Use of the backhoe and personnel is valued at between $500 and $1,500.
According to state law, an elected official can be removed from office for a misdemeanor conviction, but not an indictment.
The case is being handled by a special prosecutor from Cooke County.
_______ is in his first term as commissioner. In 2010, he defeated (name of opponent), who had held the office for more than 20 years.
Now allow me to fill in some of the empty areas between the black and white. Let me color in shades of gray so you can see the complete picture.
One year ago the commissioner allegedly repaired a road for a tax-paying resident of the county.
The road is on private property. When it rains, water rises over the road and floods it. This renders the road impassable.
The road leads to the modest home of a county resident. The county resident has terminal cancer and has been in a battle for his life for since the summer of 2003. He is physically disabled from his terminal disease. He can no longer walk and is confined to a wheelchair. His wife and teenage son take care of him at his home on private property at the end of the road that is impassable when it rains because it floods due to a ditch that needs to be cleaned out so the water can drain away from it.
They are a proud, hard-working family with a family heritage in Clay County that dates back over 75 years. They do not ask for help.
In April 2011, the county resident becomes even more ill than he has been. He is diagnosed with metastasized tumors to his spine. His oncologist tells him they can try an experimental treatment that may decrease the size of the tumors and, while the treatment will not cure him, it can possibly relieve some of the pain and allow him to live longer. It is also possible the treatment will make him so fragile he will be more vulnerable to infection and cause him to die from the treatment.
He agrees to the treatment. He must travel five days a week to the hospital 47 miles away to receive the treatment. He must have access to the public road by way of the road on his land.
It is springtime in Texas. It rains in the springtime in Texas. There is a big possibility that the road will flood and become impassable, forcing the ill man to miss his treatment or cause his inability to make it to a hospital in case the experimental treatment goes awry.
The commissioner is aware of the plight of the taxpaying resident. He knows that the road can be fixed by using a backhoe to clean out the ditch beside the road. He has a decision to make.
The result of the experimental treatment is that the taxpaying resident lives another year (and hopefully more). Long enough for him to see his teenage son graduate from high school this Friday night on May 25, 2012, which has been his goal since he was diagnosed with renal cancer 9 years ago. Long enough for him to give his grandson a cherished birthday present. Long enough for him make a lasting memory with his granddaughter. Long enough for his beloved daughter to take him deer hunting one more time, even though he had to go in his wheelchair.
Now let’s suppose it is your decision to make. What would you do? Do you see this strictly in black and white or can you color in the picture with shades of gray?
Apparently someone looked at this scene strictly in black and white, right or wrong, yes or no and then reported it to someone else who saw it the same way who then reported it again, on and on, until it finally reached the Grand Jury and resulted in an indictment of the commissioner.
No good deed goes unpunished so to speak.
Now allow me to make a stick picture of actions that might be taken by any other government employee, whether city government, county government, state or federal.
Let’s look at it in black and white. Yes or no. Right or wrong.
Some government employees might:
- read personal email at work, update a Facebook status, look at eBay, or read a daily devotion on the government issued computer at their desk in the government office during assigned work hours.
- roll the government provided vehicle past the Sonic drive-through window to retrieve a 44 ounce drink during the work day.
- use a government vehicle to push the snow off the private road of a neighbor and constituent after a record-breaking snow storm.
- use the government issued phone at the government provided desk during the work day to call the electric company to tell them the bill will be paid on Friday.
- use a government issued welder to build a smoker or other equipment for charitable use at the government operated workshop and perhaps ask other government workers to help as well during the work day.
- send a secretary to the post office with the request to pick up lunch while out running errands in the vehicle provided by the government.
- decide to run by the privately owned farm to check on cattle while out checking on government work in a government provided vehicle during the work day.
A government employee does this…a government employee does that…
Maybe the acts described above are done for others. Maybe they are done solely for personal gain. Maybe no harm is meant. Maybe no laws are wantonly disregarded.
But it all pretty much looks the same in black and white when there are no shades of gray. Could anyone pass the harsh scrutiny of their own acts if painted only in black and white?
I know I couldn’t. Could you?
I have gathered a basket full of stones. Should you decide you are qualified to cast one, call me. I’ll let you be the first in line.