The UBB Anniversary: The Truth is Always Respectable

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in 7 years.”  — Mark Twain

Today is April 5, the first anniversary of the deaths of 29 men in a terrible coal mining accident at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.

I honor the dead, and the families who mourn them; yet this post is not about that accident.  This post is about a question that the accident and its aftermath pose.  It is about something my father believes that I am not yet sure I do, and the anniversary of the UBB tragedy brings it again to the forefront of my thoughts.

“The truth is always respectable.”

My father is much more intelligent than the vast majority of people I know and even know of.   He is one of those “scary smart” men who can remember long chains of statistics, human connections, and historical sequences.  He is trained in the liberal arts and the law, has served in the army and the National Guard, endowed a prize in evidence at his law school and is intensely close to his God.   The fact that he is my father makes his stature even more awe-inspiring for me.  I listen when he speaks.  I take as pillars of my life some of his core tenets:

  • All things in moderation (If my father had to choose between Lost Horizon and the Bible for his one book on a desert island, I know he would struggle).
  • Your experience is the only experience you have; one always generalizes his or her own experience.
  • Never resist a generous impulse.
  • Fewer clothes in a marriage mean fewer arguments. (Note: I have been corrected since the original post, it’s not fewer arguments, it is arguments of shorter duration.  Got it.)
  • You can never see a great film too many times.
  • Butter is worth it.

This is just a sampler of his wisdom, but you get the idea.   The man knows what he’s talking about when he shares the wisdom of his over 80 years, and I pay attention.

That is why I am so troubled about my personal struggle with, “The truth is always respectable.”

Given the track record of how dad’s thinking turns out to be accurate I really wish this core idea were easier for me to understand.  I am still not there, and the UBB date on the calendar clouds things even more.

Evidence in the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) investigation turns up testimony that all of the men did not perish instantaneously as originally reported.  I remember the claim that no one survived the blast being quickly and widely disseminated to ease concern that the miners suffered.  Now we learn several men may have not been killed immediately, and that one man made valiant efforts to save his fellow  miners, only to have to retreat as his own oxygen supply dwindled to dangerously low levels.

When I learned this, honestly I was angry.  I was not angry at the now-alleged wrong information, I was angry that anyone thinks the families need to know that.  How horrific, to be maybe even healing a small amount, only to face renewed grief.  If someone I loved had been in that mine, I thought, just leave me in peace.  Let me have the only thing I can possibly have, and that is that he died without struggle or pain.  Let me move on, let my heart rest.

Then here comes this news…….and there is no rest for the hearts and minds of these families.  It feels so wrong, almost unethical to bring this to light if there is nothing that can be done but to hurt more.

But some time has gone by, and now I do more than just react to this terrible and seemingly pointless news.  I start to turn it around and reconfigure what it means to be devoted to knowing the truth.

If we say, either explicitly or implicitly through our responses to new information, “This is pointless and painful and you should never have told us,” what else are we saying?

We are saying it is acceptable to withhold information that might change future outcomes.

It is true that the terrible UBB explosion cannot be undone.  Those men are gone from this world forever, and their families and communities will never be the same.  But it is also true that large corporations (including the government) breathe a sigh of relief when we don’t make too much out of knowing what really goes on: who was lax, who made a serious error, who showed disdain for human life, who would just as soon deliver a modified story as the real one.

My conflict is with whether or not what the truth IS deserves respect.  That is what I usually hear when I hear, “The truth is always respectable.”  If it’s true that you cheated on a test, or lied to Congress, or abused a child, is that respectable?

No.  But making the reality of what you did available to yourself and to others who deserve to know is.  It’s more than respectable; it’s the only way anything gets any better over the long haul.

The real stories necessitate real change.  I want to put my head under a pillow so I can’t hear the real stories.  But hear them, and share them, and support them I must.

Dad, you did it again.  How do you do that?  I love you.

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Blue Glasses, Annoying Radio Preacher Men, and the Occasional “A-ha”

I just rolled back into town yesterday after 4 glorious days in North Carolina studying various topics in ethics. The trip down and back is a simple one when the weather is nice, but traveling alone I usually need at least some radio to pass the time.

Enter the Annoying Radio Preacher Men.

Without satellite radio, there are extensive swaths of road in the South where you just can’t find anything but guys on the air telling you what God wants, expressing their great confidence in my “nature” as a woman, and inevitably trying to sell something for actual cash money.  I try to just get a station where the voices are semi-calm and not screeching about fornication and the sulfuric fires of hell.

I don’t know who these men were, but one of them seemed to be the show’s host who was interviewing another guy who had a book about marriage he wanted to promote.  I lingered on the station when I heard the promoter say, “Men, we get on the crazy cycle because we don’t accept our wives for their true nature.  She sees the world through pink glasses.  We see the world through blue glasses.  She can’t see what you see.”

This was just weird enough that I had to stick with it.  Plus, I LOVE it when radio preacher men who clearly are misogynistic share their extensive wisdom about “the nature” of women.  I cracked my neck, took a deep drink of Diet Dr. Pepper, and settled back to be enlightened.

True to tradition, there was a tremendous amount of clueless stereotyped garbage about men, women, and marriage that I despise.  I can tolerate it because I see the increasing desperation of these voices to gain an audience and to justify their belief systems to themselves.  It’s on the way out for sure, but that is why it can be so entertaining.  It’s like listening to old tapes of Abbott and Costello.  And yet it was not all completely without value for me.  There was one bit in this routine that grabbed my attention and will hold it for some time.

According to the promoter, there is a sizable study out there in which hundreds of men were asked this question:  If you had to choose, would you rather a) be considered inept and inadequate by everyone, or b) be alone and unloved?

Over 80% of the men questioned chose option B.  When I did my own informal research on this, I got the same results.  I also noted that the men I asked answered with absolutely no hesitation and utter confidence.  Better to be alone and unloved than to be considered incompetent.

The promoter used this point to talk about conflict in a marriage, and how the deep commitment to and need for respect can influence a man’s behavior.  Though there was no corresponding study there was an assumption that the reverse of these priorities is true for women and I unscientifically have to agree.  I see it all the time and have my whole life.  Not every woman reflects this of course (thus my dislike for these kinds of pronouncements), but I can see evidence that many women will suffer disrespect and allegations of incompetence rather than risk the threat of being alone and unloved.

Again, all of this is quite sweeping and in no way takes into account that each person is unique, each person is not married or even interested in that, each person is not carved out of some imaginary heterosexual blue or pink stone that God grabs from his quarry and chisels into humanity in his spare time.  I rebuke all of that as untrue and quite ridiculous. But it’s difficult to dismiss the information that may be relevant here to many people negotiating long-term relationships where these gender-specific hierarchies of need may be playing out.

I clicked off the program after hearing my “a-ha” take away point.  Men struggle to show love when they feel disrespected.  Women struggle to show respect when they feel unloved.

Whoopi Goldberg used to wear purple glasses.  I say we all get our hands on some of those.  (Whoopi would have a field day with my radio preacher men……..)

Image credit:  U2 Station