Friends occasionally ask me if I’m troubled by the things my critics say about me. My answer is always the same – “Not really.”
There are good reasons I feel the way I do.
First, I’ve seen over time that, despite what the critics say, my wife hasn’t given up on me and the dogs still wag their tails when I come back home from some adventure. That’s worth far more to me than the barbed words of my critics.
Second, I’ve learned to take criticism in stride. There are times when it can be a very valuable teacher. I realize that I’m occasionally a bit of a lightning rod. I also realize that I’d be a fool to believe that my critics can’t sometimes be right. I don’t claim the ability to think “ex cathedra.”
Third, I freely admit that I take some delight in being the target of some of my critics’ wrath. I’ve picked up the phone more than once since I’ve lived here and heard the now familiar refrain. “You idiot, I’d like to wring your neck.” I can almost see the veins in their necks bulging as they scream at me. Where does all that courage come from? A snort or two of Sneaky Pete, I think.
My critics sometimes amaze me. Several years ago, for example, one attempted to run me and my dog, Jack, out of town. I was saved from the tar and feathers, thanks to Floyd Dorsey’s spirited public defense of his buddy, Jack.
I even have one raving fan who, upon reading a piece I wrote about a trip to Ireland, kindly offered to pay for one way tickets for me and mine to fly back to Ireland and never come back. Little did that raving fan know that Nancy and I were actually considering living the expatriate life on the Emerald Isle. We’re keeping that generous offer in mind.
Fourth, I’ve observed over time that my allies are much better judges of me than my critics. I see this especially when I’m around kids, the developmentally disabled like my brother-in-law, James, and his buddies, the small businessman who doesn’t get the incentives and TIF’s, the guy who’s pulling down minimum wage to support a family, the down and outers, or the elderly. I love them and they love me. Our relationships are natural, not forced.
Fifth, I’m uncomfortable being around the politically connected or the powerful. I’m not trying to wangle their dinner invitations, but if they were to ever send me one, I’d want to be sure I could bring my cup bearer with me.
Sixth, and most important, I love a good fight. I think it must be the contrarian Irish genes and the sense of justice that experience has instilled in me.
When I first moved here sixteen years ago, I didn’t think I’d spend a lot of time playing in the gravel with the high and mighty. Thankfully, I was wrong. It all started when I read about a public meeting being held downtown concerning the elimination of a city taxi subsidy for the poor, elderly and handicapped. The city wanted to scrap it, claiming the city couldn’t afford the $50,000 annual cost of the program. I did a bit of reading and discovered, to my amazement, that the city still felt that it could afford to subsidize the public golf course to the tune of a quarter of a million a year. Something to do with Emporia’s quality of life, the commission claimed. It wasn’t hard to read between the lines. Golf for the high and mighty was a quality of life issue. A bit of help on cab fare for the poor, elderly, or handicapped was a bother.
On the day of the meeting, a large army of elderly folks wheezing through oxygen bottles or moving along with the aid of walkers gathered to express their concerns. The poor and needy were also well represented. When the time for public input came, I launched into a bit of hyperbole, suggesting that, since the commissioners’ main concerns were quality of life and revenue, the city retrofit the payday loan shops, empty storefronts, and slum properties and turn them into a city managed red light district. I reasoned it would increase revenues and add to the quality of small town life. The commissioners weren’t amused, but the disadvantaged and downtrodden in the crowd got it and roared their approval. They loved me and I loved them. I knew then that I’d found my place in the community.
In the end, I understand that the critics go with the territory. They may want to tar and feather me, but, the calls of support I get from the powerless, downtrodden, and disadvantaged more than make up for that. They, not my critics, are the reason why I fight!