I didn’t know there was a Talbott, Tennessee until I was asked to be an usher in my friend’s wedding several years ago. Before going, I was told that it was a nice place filled with nice people. After being there less than ten minutes I knew that I never wanted to go back. In fact, it didn’t take me long to start wishing ill will on Talbott and all of its residents.
Talbott is a small, unincorporated community near Morristown which is east of Knoxville. The only person I knew from Talbott was Jimmy’s wife-to-be. Every time I had been around her she had been an extremely pleasant person with a cheerfully exuberant demeanor. Any notion that this was the norm quickly faded as I arrived for the wedding rehearsal.
I arrived at the designated church building 20 minutes earlier than the start of the rehearsal. I was alone and was pretty sure that the number of people I didn’t know would be greater than the number of people that I was familiar with. This didn’t bother me since I am a jovial fellow who generally has no trouble getting along with other human beings.
As I got out of my truck, I looked over and saw some faces I didn’t recognize. Because I am a nerd, I usually greet people by saying “howdy.” So, I said howdy. They did not respond. Instead they looked at me then turned away.
I’m not sure where you live, but here in the South this type of behavior just doesn’t happen. We talk to each other or at least acknowledge each other’s existence. I’ve learned the life stories of people just by spending 5 minutes with them in a grocery store check-out line. I’ve shared an elevator with people and found out by talking with them that we’re related. I’ve even been offered hugs from total strangers.
I was caught off-guard. I didn’t know what to do. So I kept on walking toward the building deciding that I would say “hello” next time I saw someone just in case “howdy” was Talbott-speak for “you suck.”
Nearing the entrance, I saw two more people having what looked to be a lively conversation. As I passed I said, “Hello!” more loudly than before. This time they didn’t even look in my direction.
I opened the door and entered the building thinking that maybe God collects jerks and keeps his collection in Talbott. I passed judgement on the entire population of a community that I was visiting for the first time based upon interaction with people who snubbed me without knowing if they even lived there. I stopped short of asking God to send fire down upon them because James and John asked Jesus if they could do that once and he rebuked them. I had already been rejected by the Talbottians; I didn’t need a rebuke from the King of Kings to go along with it.
But I was a perturbed by the whole situation. Especially after I greeted a young man in the hallway and it happened again. One snub was somewhat understandable. Two snubs was a trend. Three snubs was proof that the people of this community were God-less pagans.
Or this is how I felt until I remembered something important; something that would have kept me from foolishly thinking that Talbott was inhabited by jerks.
My friend Jimmy works at the Tennessee School for the Deaf. Some of his deaf coworkers were part of the wedding. The reason that they didn’t respond to me was because they could not hear me, not because they were jerks.
I was the jerk.
If jumping to conclusions was a sport, I would be a professional. This is probably true for you, too. We are proficient at taking a limited amount of information and forming strong opinions that feel like facts. Real facts take too long to uncover and finding out the truth is too much like work. Opinions are not bound by these things. They can be formed quickly and loosely based upon momentary encounters or by merely the clothes someone wears. They can come out of nowhere like pulling a rabbit out of a hat.
But living like this causes anger to be present without reason and feelings to be hurt without cause.
Someone didn’t call when you were sick? Did anyone tell them. You weren’t invited on a road-trip? Maybe they knew you would say no. No one laughed at your joke? Did they even hear it?
A look, a word, a snub, a whatever. Little things cause us to judge, to condemn, to get mad.
Meteorologists often talk about cooling trends this time of year. I think that we all need cooling trends from time to time.
We need to cool down before we form opinions based upon partial facts. We need to calm down before saying a disparaging word.
Talbott, as it turns out, is a nice place filled with nice people.
There was a jerk there that night, though. The jerk was me.
(Have you ever jumped to conclusions and been a complete jerk? Confession is good for the soul. Goa ahead and share.)