Friday, June 23, 2006

Highway Construction and Emmitt Smith

Last week I had the experience of being thrust into a two hour car ride with a perfect stranger. Rather than being nervous or fearing awkwardness, I looked forward to it, and though we came from different walks of life, this fellow and I had a good conversation. He had some great stories about Indy 500's he had attended that lasted for a large chunk of the trip. There were only two points at which I felt uncomfortable, and I was only uncomfortable because I had to fight my natural inclination to argue. A lot of people like to argue, particularly about important topics. I generally don't like to argue anything of substance, but relish the opportunity to argue trivial points, as you can see from my vehemence a few posts below relating to temperature scales. I'm not exactly sure why that is.

Of all the topics to come up, for some reason my companion raised the topic of Emmitt Smith buying Rolex watches for his Dallas Cowboys teammmates about ten years ago. He proceeded to go on a rant about how that money could have been put to much better use. He also distorted the facts in the course of his rant, as he accused Emmitt of giving watches to all of his teammates, when my recollection was that he only gave them to his offensive linemen (I doubt most people remember the story at all). I fought the urge to correct his facts, and I also fought the urge to tell him I didn't think Emmitt did anything wrong. Instead, for whatever reason, I started talking about recent charitable contributions golfer Phil Mickelson had made. Five years ago, I would probably have engaged in argument.

When our journey took us through some predictible road construction, he started on a rant about how he doesn't understand why there has to always be road construction. Rather than discuss the physics of asphalt (which I wouldn't be able to do anyway), I turned the conversation to current toll rates in Illinois. I thought about his comments later, and I came to the realization that he is only partly to blame for his ignorance about the necessity of roadwork. I also blame the state for using the euphemism "construction" when all they are really doing most of the time is "maintenance." Part of his complaint was that the road construction is never done. Calling it "construction" gives people the false hope that ongoing road work is finite and we will one day be free of it. Calling it maintenance would change people's perception entirely. Homeowners know that no matter how many times they have to mow the lawn, the job will never be over. If we can get roadwork into the same type of paradigm of perception it would help a lot. I think I just might raise this issue next time someone complains about how road construction never ends.

In any event, I am still somewhat bothered by my reluctance to engage in civil debate about these admittedly insignificant issues. A line of demarcation between a friend and an aquaintance may lie in a person's willingness to challenge another's statements for the simple joys of argument's sake. If that is true, looking back, there is a time not too long ago when I regarded everyone as my friend. Now, somehow, I've come to regard a large number of people as mere acquaintances.


Blogger kevin said...

even though i could live with the change i have a feeling that changing the term wouldn't relieve much of the agrivation brought forth by road "maintenance". as for the argumentation, i feel satisfied when i catch the error and correct it in my head. not everyone likes to be corrected. of course it is all in the presentation when it comes to corrections. when it is done in a non-intrusive or less intimidating way it is more likely to be accepted. this comes from a guy who's sister likes to correct his every verbal gramatical error.

8:23 AM  
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