Tuesday, June 11, 2019

On Trying Too Hard

Two years ago this week, for reasons that weren’t entirely my fault, I made a total ass of myself and pissed off a lot of people while my wife Cheryl was on a mission trip to Haiti. After the dust had settled…indeed, while the dust was still settling…I tried to fix things. I tried to patch things up. I wanted really badly to make things right.

I tried too hard. I became annoying. I knew I couldn’t get a cosmic do-over, but in my attempts to make things right I tried too hard, and became annoying.

I really shouldn’t be surprised. I have a history of trying too hard. Every time I liked a girl in grade school or high school, I tried too hard, and scared them away. This little habit of trying too hard lasted well into college (and I was an undergrad for seven years). By the time I got to grad school, I had finally learned my lesson. In fact, I learned it so well that Cheryl practically had to throw herself at me to let me know that it wouldn’t be “trying too hard” for me to ask her out…or ask her to marry me.

But I digress.

The simple fact of the matter is that I tried too hard to fix things, and became annoying as a result.

But there’s something else I realized just recently. It’s something that should be perfectly obvious when you think about it, but we often don’t get it because maybe it’s too obvious, or maybe we’re too idealistic…

Sometimes you don’t get to fix things. Sometimes you don’t get to make things right. Very often you don’t even get to apologize. And most annoying and painful of all…sometimes you just have to let the record show that you were a tremendous schmuck.

Because here’s the other revelation…sometimes, subconsciously, “wanting to make things right” can be as much about your not wanting to appear to be a schmuck as it is genuinely wanting to fix things. Perhaps there’s a lot of it that’s about not wanting to go down in history as that jerk that screwed things up.

And so you want to fix that. You want to fix what you messed up, and you want to correct the record.

The counterintuitive thing is that sometimes trying to make things right on your terms makes it take longer for things to become right again on theirs. Or perhaps trying to make things right years later, when you realize what you did wrong and understand why it happened, reopens a wound that had long since healed for the other party.

I can think of a number of other people I'd like to apologize to for bad...or hurtful...behavior on my part. But I also recognize that maybe they’re so over me by now that it doesn't matter to them anymore, and that that apology might disrupt the peace that they now have.

And yet...there’s a part of me that would like for people who recognize that they’ve hurt me to apologize and try to make things right. So maybe I want everyone to do it...me to them, them to me, all of us to each other.

In any event, as I said in the beginning, for reasons that were not entirely my fault, I made a total ass of myself and pissed off a lot of people while Cheryl was in Haiti two years ago. I’ve since apologized, and have tried to make things right, but you know something…the fact that I was an ass is a historical fact that will not be expunged by my later enlightenment. And my trying too hard to fix what happened then is counterproductive for everyone involved.

So I’m just gonna let it go, leave these poor people alone, and deal with it the way I deal with all of my very human failings…by laughing at what an idiot I was. After all, time has a way of making even the most painful things seem funny in the retelling.

And…remembering that while you can’t always make things right, you can always learn from what you did wrong.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The Bad Idea of Residency Requirements

Once again, the idea of forcing Syracuse teachers, firefighters, and police officers to live within the city limits has come up, and once again, it’s time to take a look at why this is a bad idea.

First of all, at best, the idea of forcing the people to live within the city is a “feel-good” idea about what would make our neighborhoods better. At worst, it’s an idea borne of jealousy over some city employees getting to live someplace “better,” and wanting them to suffer like the rest of us do. I disagree with both of these ideas.

Let’s start with the “feel-good” idea that this would make our neighborhoods better. The people who propose this believe that having teachers, firefights, and police officers live in the city they’re serving would make them more responsive to the needs of the community. They believe that if these people were forced to live within the city, they would provide needed positive examples to the rest of the people in their neighborhoods. They believe that these people would put a little more heart and soul into their jobs if they knew that they were affecting the people that they lived with on a day-to-day basis.

Unfortunately, the reality is quite different. Forcing Syracuse teachers, firefighters, and police officers to live within the city limits is not going to force them to move to the neighborhoods where the “example of their presence” is needed most. There are plenty of homes available in Eastwood, Sedgwick, Strathmore, and the University area, far from the problems many of these people have to deal with on a daily basis. And if you think about it carefully, it makes sense that a person who has to deal with the issues that these people do should be allowed to escape somewhere else to recharge without feeling that they’re on duty 24/7, whether that’s a nicer neighborhood in the city or somewhere just across the city line.

In addition the people who use as an example the fact that when they were kids, their father, the firefighter, was able to walk to the firehouse if he was needed in an emergency don’t grasp the fact that nowadays even firefighters who live in the city probably live across town from the station they’re based out of.

Now let’s consider jealousy, because that’s exactly what it is. I don’t see people from Liverpool or DeWitt demanding that their teachers live within their communities, and I’ve known teachers from both districts who lived right here in the city. Why is that? Because for the most part people in those two communities don’t feel bad about where they live. Yet, for some reason, many of us who live in Syracuse don’t like it, would prefer to live somewhere else, and don’t want anyone else to live someplace we consider “better” on our dime.

And who are these jealous people? I’m betting that they’re not people who live in Eastwood, Sedgwick, Strathmore, or the University area. After all, anyone who lives in one of those neighborhoods could easily afford to live in DeWitt, Liverpool, or Nedrow, but chose to live in the city for one reason or another.

Not me. I’m a city kid from way back. Not this city, but a city kid nonetheless. I like being able to walk to the corner store, the drugstore, or the library; and I like having sidewalks to do it on. I love living in the city, and I have never considered moving outside of it. However, I understand that city life, even in a residential neighborhood, isn’t for everyone. Some people need a little more space and a little more nature – neither of which is available here in the city.

With these thoughts in mind, I think it’s time o give up on the residency requirement as a bad idea whose time has long passed, and just hire the best people for the job, no matter where they live.