A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


Tom needed to be brought down a peg maybe two. I saw that right off.

"I need to speak to the head idiot," the authoritative voice said through the telephone line.

"Well, sir," I said, hesitantly, "I guess that would be me."

"I don't want to waste my time with some flunky," he continued. "If you can't do something about this mess you've created, then pass me on to someone who can."

I took a deep breath before I spoke. This was going to be one of THOSE calls.

"Sir," I said, "why don't you tell me what the problem is, and I'll see what I can do."

He did, in no uncertain terms. He was civil about it, but in a smug, superior way. And he was pretty clear about how awful he thought it was that "so-called professionals" could make such a mistake. His diatribe was grating, especially since I was almost positive he was wrong. But I couldn't just say that I had to check it out. THEN I could tell him he was nuts.

In the nicest possible way, of course.

Before long I knew for sure that he was wrong and, more important, that I was right. That's a powerful feeling: to be right. And I was ready to use my power against Tom.

I plotted my strategy. I would return his call and inform him that he was wrong. If he questioned my claim (and I was sure he would) I would simply invite him to go for a drive with me so we could verify the facts of the matter together. And then I would have the pleasure of seeing the look on his face when he realized how wrong he was. And how right I was.

The call went just as I expected. He seemed almost offended when I suggested the possibility that his findings might not be correct, and was glad to accept my invitation for joint verification. Just a few minutes later, he was in the passenger seat of my Corolla, and we were cruising toward Truth, Justice and Personal Vindication.

Tom and I chatted as we drove. Turns out he is a pretty nice guy. He retired from an engineering career of some note to spend his golden years with the love of his life. Sadly, cancer took her from him a couple of years ago. These days he is spending as much time as possible with his family while trying to do some good in the world with the free time he had on his hands.

About halfway through our ride, I found myself wishing we didn't have to continue the exercise. I watched his jaunty confidence fade as we drew closer and closer to the inescapable conclusion. He searched valiantly for the evidence that had been so firmly in his grasp just an hour or so earlier. And when at last it was clear that he had been mistaken, he readily acknowledged his error and offered sincere, heart-felt apologies. This was the moment for which I had been waiting, my moment of personal triumph. But somehow, it wasn't as satisfying as I thought it would be.

At some point during our hour together, I stopped seeing Tom as Just Another Critic. Instead, I saw him for who he really was: a bright, caring man who thought he had stumbled upon a dangerous situation, and had been motivated to do something about it. I was moved by the dignity and grace with which he acknowledged his error, and was touched by his appreciation for my efforts to educate him.

As I drove away from his home, I wondered how often I have been guilty of turning honest disagreements into personal crusades, seeking to vanquish those who have the audacity to have a different point of view from my own. Tom wasn't an enemy to be conquered; he was just misinformed. Even though I was technically right, my attitude was all wrong.

And I needed to be brought down a peg. Maybe two.

# # #

--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and