Tuesday, April 08, 2014

People

I've been thinking about people a lot lately. Not so much specific ones; more just the general idea of us. It started a couple weeks ago at Toys Backward-R Us. The guy in front of me at the checkout was maybe 20 and buying a handful of LEGO packs. They were these little opaque packets that each included one minifig character from The Movie, but you couldn't tell which character it was until you opened it. This guy was with his mom, and he had some kind of apparent developmental disability. It seemed very real but relatively minor, though I only saw him for a brief time. 

Anyway, he was really excited to see which characters he had gotten, so the cashier rang him up and then took the time to cut his packets open for him. She was super nice, really genuine, and it seemed like maybe this had happened before. Two of the three characters that he got were ones he already had, but that didn't dampen his excitement one bit. 

I mean, I have no idea what his mom was thinking, or anything else about his day or life. But from my perspective, those few moments were just a really beautiful interaction to watch. 

I was still smiling about it in the car when I had a realization. The most personal offense I ever take (and it's a lot) is when someone thinks I'm stupid. Or I suppose, more precisely, when someone appears to think I'm not as smart as I think I am. But you know? That's not benign. Intelligence doesn't exist on its own, just as an entity. Every level of intelligence, including whatever level I think people think I have, if it exists, exists in a person. 

So all this time, I've been getting ragey at the possibility that in someone's eyes I have the intelligence of someone else. A real, live, whole person -- at least. It made me feel really ashamed. What the hell gave me the right?

So I've been revisiting this little revelation for a couple weeks, thinking about how traits cannot exist outside their exhibitors. And in those couple weeks, there has been a wave of bad news in my chosen field, including the layoffs of a full quarter of the journalists at the Star-Ledger in Newark and bad-looking operational changes at other papers. It's not a surprise, of course; It's been going on for years. But 2014 seems to have been particularly bad. And I was talking to someone about these changes, what I called the death of newspapers. No, this guy said; it's the death of journalism. And I thought about those words: Is journalism something that can even die? What does that even mean?

But I realized that he was right. As papers close, as fewer and fewer people are paid to (as an old editor put it) commit journalism, it's very possible. Just as intelligence cannot exist on its own, journalism cannot exist outside journalists. It's certainly a scary thought.

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