On being … vilified

By Ingrid Sapona

News stories related to the Winter Olympics and to the Florida school shooting have left me deeply troubled this week. My concern centers on the propensity to vilify people who behave in a way that others judge – almost immediately – as improper or unacceptable.

The Olympic-related story was about Jocelyn Larocque – she’s the Canadian ice hockey player who removed the silver medal that had just been placed around her neck. After removing it, she kept it clasped in her left hand as she shook hands with the women on the winning U.S. team. While that report describes the physical action Larocque took during the medal presentation, it doesn’t talk about the look of sorrow or anguish on her face. It also doesn’t explain what might be behind her look of utter disappointment. Nope, it doesn’t say anything about Larocque’s team losing the gold as a result of a shootout. But apparently Larocque’s action was enough for many to condemn her as a bad sport, a poor loser, a bad role model, and a “disgusting athlete”.[1]

Yet when I saw the video of the medal being placed around Larocque’s neck, my heart broke for her. Truly. Though I’m no athlete and I can’t possibly imagine what it’s like to compete at that level, I can definitely understand the feeling of utter disappointment. Who can’t, I thought? Well, it didn’t take long to learn that many folks can’t. Not only that, they were quick to condemn her.

The vilification of Larocque ranged from the nasty remarks I mentioned earlier, to headlines in major newspapers that claimed she “refused” to wear her silver medal. That’s not how she behaved. She stood there solemnly as it was placed around her neck and then when the medal presenter moved to the next athlete, she quietly slipped it off. I think anyone with any compassion would see what I saw: a drained, tired competitor who had given her all and who was grieving the fact that, in the end, the effort wasn’t enough.

And then there was the horrific – yet sadly not unusual – shooting in Florida that left 17 people dead. Again, an event that I cannot personally relate to at all. Indeed, for people who live outside the U.S., the tragedy of 17 dead as a result of actions of someone who was legally able to by a gun (whether one labelled an “assault” weapon or not) is simply beyond our comprehension.

Of course, even though most Americans seem to willing overlook the obvious cause of such tragedies (guns), that doesn’t mean they don’t struggle to try to make sense of such an event. And so, in the aftermath, we’ve all come to expect talk of things like the signals law enforcement and parents missed or ignored. And these days, finger pointing is especially popular because it’s the favoured diversionary tactic of Trump, the blamer-in-chief. But people vilifying Florida sheriff deputy Scot Peterson for not taking action – in effect making him the scapegoat – is both unfair and cruel.

I can understand it when an angry, scared teenage survivor of the massacre says “shame on him” because she believes Peterson could have saved so many if he’d have gone into the school. That’s a survivor’s emotion talking – perhaps even a survivor’s guilt talking. But Trump calling Peterson a coward for not having the courage to “get in there and do something” was nothing short of disgusting to me. (On the other hand, Trump’s ridiculous statement that he would have gone in there even if he was unarmed is easy to ignore as self-aggrandizing fantasy.)

Why is it that no one seems to care about Peterson’s emotions in the aftermath? He too is a survivor of the terrible incident, yet few people seem willing to try to imagine what he might be going through. Maybe in the wake of such a tragedy, there’s only so much compassion to go around. Well, I feel for Peterson and his family – what an awful thing to have been involved in.  

I realize these stories are very different in scope and gravity. And yet, to me they both reflect an unhealthy a hardening of people’s hearts and an erosion of compassion and empathy. I hope I’m wrong… What do you think?

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... port-able?

By Ingrid Sapona

In this era of passwords and PIN numbers, it’s a real challenge to remember them all. One number I bet you remember is the phone number at your house growing up. In my case, that phone number has been around for over 50 years and until today, it’s been the one that rang at my Mom’s house.

Phone numbers have been a topic of discussion around here of late. Last year one of my sisters gave me her old cell phone and she added me to her U.S. cell plan. I don’t use that phone a lot – just when I’m in the States. In fact, I use it so seldom, I can never remember the number. That can be embarrassing when I ask someone to call me back, but then I can’t tell them what number to call. Ugh.

When my sister and I initially talked about her adding me to her plan, I assumed I’d get a number with a Texas area code, as that’s where she lives. To my surprise, she ended up getting me a number with a Buffalo area code. She figured that made sense because I’d use the phone mainly when I’m visiting Mom in Buffalo. So, I always think of that phone as my “Buffalo cell”.

I was actually pretty amazed that she could just pick the area code she wanted for the cell. I had never heard of that. I always assumed a phone number has some connection to the billing location. But I guess – at least with cell phones – that’s not necessarily the case any more.

I wasn’t around when phone numbers started with an actual location, but from the song “Pennsylvania 6-5000” I know that they used to. (Apparently Pennsylvania 6-5000 was a phone exchange for the area around Penn Station in New York.) I AM old enough to remember a variation of that name/number convention because people in our neighborhood used to say their phone numbers with letters in the first two places, rather than numbers. So, for example, our phone number started with “NX4”, followed by the last four digits.

At some point I noticed everyone in our neighborhood had a phone number that started with “NX”. After that, I started paying attention to telephone prefixes (that’s what I call the first three numbers after the area code) because I realized they gave you a general idea of where a person or business might be located. In the days before GPS, knowing that was pretty helpful. And, on the flip side, if you knew the prefix for a certain area, it was easier to remember the number of someone you knew who lived in that area.

When I bought my condo in 2007 I was hoping to keep my phone number because it was also my business number. But, I knew I was moving outside the area I always associated with the phone prefix I had. Sadly, when I inquired, I learned I’d be assigned a new number.

Facing loss of the number that had been my business number for over 10 years, I got a little creative. I asked whether my business number, which was a land line, could become my cell phone number. That was doable because, by then, you could “port” an existing number to a cell phone. I was tickled. Sure, it meant the added expense of a cell phone (remember, in 2007 cell phones weren’t as ubiquitous as they are today), but it was worth it to me to keep my business number.

Now, back to the Buffalo cell… There are times when it’s come in handy, but with two cells it’s very easy to miss texts and messages because one cell is usually turned off to avoid roaming charges. Believe me, I completely understand Hillary Clinton’s (some would say questionable) decision to use just one cell! Anyway, about a month ago my sister told me she’s planning on switching cell providers. Her new plan will cover North America for calling, text, and data and she’s offered to add the Buffalo cell to the new plan, if I want it. I thanked her for the generous offer, but I asked for some time to consider it.

In thinking about it, I realized much of my ambivalence comes from not liking the Buffalo cell number and having no sense of connection to it. I wondered if I’d use that phone more if it was a number I liked. That’s when I had the idea of porting our long-time family phone number to the Buffalo cell, given that we’d otherwise lose the number when the phone is disconnected prior to the house closing. I mentioned this to my sisters and they both loved the idea of one of us keeping that number “in the family”. Technology being what it is, as of this afternoon, the family phone number is now the number of the Buffalo cell.

I don’t know about you, but I find stuff like “porting” phone numbers and area codes that don’t necessarily relate to a specific area strange, albeit kinda cool. Of course, to make the most of what’s possible you have to think outside the conventions and norms you grew up with AND you have to be willing to ask.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona