- - Wednesday, August 21, 2019


How do people make choices? It’s a complicated question that philosophers have been pondering for millennia. But it turns out that wisdom and experience can be found outside of the ivory tower and TED Talks. For me it was working as a mall cop. Seriously.

As a recent college graduate with a pretty nice resume, I was nonetheless unemployed and struggling to find solid work like many other college graduates with a political science degree — or as I’ve learned to call it, a “good intentions” degree. Being an unarmed security guard at Reston Town Center in Northern Virginia was a simple job; stand around and make sure people didn’t set things on fire while the white collar class worked at the Fortune 500s in the towering office spaces that looked down upon us, shopped at the stores we couldn’t afford to shop, and drove cars we’d probably never so much as test drive. 

If you think I was bitter and confused … you are right.

What I didn’t expect was to learn from the work ethic of the many legal immigrants who were working redeye shifts at the mall and evening shifts as baggage handlers at Dulles Airport just to send some money back home to their families. Never in a million years did I imagine that I would be on a first-name basis with a mentally ill homeless man, whose sole pleasure was finding enough loose cash and change so he could buy a cigar, and smoke it right down to the end of the label. I’ll never forget the moment I had to ticket a man’s BMW for double parking, and as I put the ticket under one of his windshield wipers, he came outside in his three-piece suit and chastised me in public because he didn’t want to pay the ticket.

“You wouldn’t be here if you went to college and made better decisions,” he said to me, almost like a caricature of a man blinded by his own wealth and privilege. I wanted to give him the middle finger, but instead I shot him a smile and walked away. I had a choice to make about how I was going to handle that situation. And he still had a ticket to pay.

This isn’t a story about how I got something better eventually by humbling myself amongst the blue collar crew that clean our toilets and prepare our food so we can be comfortable. It’s a story about being thankful for what you have, and understanding that everything ultimately comes down to the choices we all make.

I find the timing perfect that a new film based on the life of Fred Rogers from “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” should be coming to theaters shortly. Times like these are when we could use some folksy wisdom from America’s neighbor. During a commencement speech at Dartmouth University  in 2002, Mr. Rogers gave a speech that could easily be given to any graduating class today. 

“I’m very much interested in choices,” Rogers said, “and what it is and who it is that enable us human beings to make the choices we make all throughout our lives.”

“What choices lead to ethnic cleansing? What choices lead to healing? What choices lead to the destruction of the environment? The erosion of the Sabbath? Suicide bombings or teenagers shooting teachers. What choices encourage heroism in the midst of chaos?”

“What is essential is invisible to the eye” Rogers’ said, quoting a phrase from the French novel “The Little Prince.” “Well, what is essential about you? And who are those who have helped you become the person you are?”

Choices — everything ultimately comes down to us making very deliberate choices; to burn down the neighborhood or choose to be neighborly. Christopher Grant of El Paso, who ran toward the shooter there earlier this month made one such choice too. He was gravely wounded in the attack, and saved the lives of others. 

“It’s not the honors and the prizes or the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish the soul,” Fred Rogers said. “it’s the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth that the bedrock of our lives from which we make our choices is very good stuff.”

Mr. Rogers knew it, we know it, what matters are the choices we make knowing that truth.

• Remso W. Martinez is social media coordinator at The Washington Times.

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