First, You Cry (with apologies to Betty Rollin) – Thoughts on Loss of Restraint (Thinking about Ferguson)

I am sad this morning. I am sad at the eruption in Ferguson.

And I feel a little hopeless.

For some reason, a phrase popped into my mind. It is from a book title – a book I have never read, but a book title that for some reason is seared in my memory. The title, First, You Cry, is the title of Betty Rollin’s very personal account of her own breast cancer battle, first published in 1976. I’ve just read a few of the sample pages, partly to understand the title a little more clearly, and also to avoid looking at another sentence about or image from Ferguson.

I have no wisdom to share.

But I am thinking about a problem we seem to have – call it a loss of restraint.

a measure or condition that keeps someone or something under control or within limits.

Most people practice restraint, most — nearly all of — the time.

Most police officers practice restraint.
Most citizens practice restraint.
Most readers and writers practice restraint.
Most business leaders practice restraint.

But, when an incident occurs – a man steals from a convenience store; a police officer confronts the man without back-up; a community feels that justice is denied… all restraint appears to be jettisoned.

I remember a humorous thought from a fine man. I’m a graduate of Abilene Christian University – (it was only “College’ when I attended). It is a conservative Christian college in West Texas, The President when I attended was John Stevens. A fine man! And he was witty! One day, he told an audience that he had concluded that the airlines have corrupted our youth. He described it this way. There were times when he had to call a parent to discuss the rather unrestrained way that their son or daughter was behaving on campus. They would tell him “this couldn’t possibly be true; my child is an angel.” But his experience contradicted this – they were not angels, but “little devils.” So he said that if they left home an angel, and arrived on campus a little devil, then the airline must have corrupted this young man or woman. An angel leaving home got on the plane; a devil got off the plane in the college town. The airline must have been the source of the corrupting.

That’s really a story about restraint. Whatever was the cause, these particular students were not practicing restraint:  keeping someone or something under control or within limits.

And I see it everywhere. In the big stories, like Ferguson. In countless blog and website comments, and tweets, with language and tone and intent that is devoid of restraint.

I know this – when I have failed to practice restraint, I’ve made a few mistakes myself over the years.

When many in a society lose restraint, the ripple effects can be so very harmful.

And, so, what I thought, last night, and this morning as I write, was/is “First, you cry…”


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