It pays to have thick skin. I’m not sure if people are angrier now than in generations past. Maybe it just seems that way.
Rarely a day goes by without seeing someone lose their temper, either in public, on the highway, or online. It doesn’t take much to trigger their emotions.
If you want to know what someone thinks, just ask. What do they think about President Trump? I can just about guarantee they either love him, or hate him. If you disagree with their opinion, you might soon lose a friend, or alienate a family member.
I remember a few political conversations growing up in the family store. Candidates for county offices would frequently come in at campaign time, asking for votes. One first-time candidate was passing out cards at the store entrance, and quickly got a taste of candor. When he offered a handshake to one of our more outspoken female customers, the lady kept her hands to herself and told him, “Don’t bother me with your promises. If you’re not a crook when you go in office, you will be by the time you get out!” He tried to assure her that he was different, but she quickly stormed away.
We are taught that honesty is the best policy, although it can be painful at times. Many a husband has been banished to the sofa after answering the question, “Does this make me look fat?” The kitchen can be a dangerous place too. “Here, honey, try a little of this corn bread. Is it as good as your mother’s?” If the reply is, “Oh my, it’s even better,” you’ll get some extra dessert later. On the other hand, if you say, “Well, it could use more…something…it’s a little dry….and needs some salt,” you might get a face full of dessert.
Often, if you say the wrong thing, it could even have repercussions beyond your kitchen. If Mom visits for Sunday dinner, and Wifey says, “Here Ma, have some cornbread. My dear husband says it’s even better than yours!” you may get deleted from the family will.
As a TV guy, I get a huge dose of unfiltered honesty each day. In addition to the much-appreciated compliments, folks will share their brutally frank opinions. After all, we ask to be invited into your living room each day, so we should expect to be treated like family, right?
While attending a surprise birthday party recently, an elderly lady rushed over to tell me that she watched me each day. About the time my head was swelling with pride, she burst the bubble. “You sure have gained weight,” she said. I didn’t think I heard her correctly, so I said, “Excuse me?” Big mistake. Realizing that I must be suffering from hearing loss, she cranked up her volume to jet airliner levels, yelling, “I said, you sure have gained weight!” so that everyone at the party and the surrounding neighborhood could hear. It didn’t help that I was holding a little bitty plate with a gigantic slice of cake.
A few days later, I was in the store when a gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You’re David Carroll, right?” “Yes, sir” I replied. He continued, “You’re on Channel 3, right?” “Every day,” I replied, “Thank you for watching.” “Oh I don’t watch y’all,“ he said. “I’ve watched the other channel my whole life.” “Well,” I said cheerfully, “it’s never too late to start a new habit!” He paused and said, “No, that’s all right. I just like the other channel better. Nice to meet you though.” In all fairness, he was nicer than the lady in my family’s store. He didn’t tell me I was a crook.
A former TV colleague of mine is also greeted in public often. Rarely a day passes, he tells me, without someone saying, “I watch you on TV every night!” One problem: he changed professions about ten years ago, and hasn’t been on TV since. “I used to correct them,” he told me. “But it’s a lot quicker just to thank them for watching!”
Through the years, I’ve been called Bill, Bob, Greg, Darrell, Don, Tom,, and quite frequently, “that dude who plays on the news.” I’ve been asked to “tell the rest of the cast hello,” as if we are actors in a sitcom. Come to think of it, there are days when we have a lot of laughs, so maybe that isn’t too far off the mark.
So while it’s true that many people you see on your screens have healthy egos, it doesn’t take much to cut us down to size. Although I do plan to suck in my gut the next time I attend a party.
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” a collection of his best stories. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.