An Essay to Friends, Tolerance and the Power of Words

Posted By Mike Padgett

Aug. 31, 2011

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Let me tell you about two of my best friends. They may not fully realize the roles they played in teaching me the power of words. Their encouragement and trust changed my world.

I have many acquaintances. Most are talented, hard-charging journalists and photographers. Some are business leaders. But I am distant, so my friends are a select few. They know me, as I know them. We click. In groups, I mostly listen and watch. My study of people and their behavior has been invaluable in my career. I avoid self-absorbed individuals; they don’t realize their talents are clouded by their egos.

I speak up when I have something important to offer. I don’t talk just to keep pace with shallow chatter. I seek valuable input. My brain hungers to learn. Which is why, in our home, books and the Internet’s educational cornucopia outshine the high-definition junk food on today’s television menus.

I avoid those who mock others because of their ethnic or religious roots. I enjoy nature’s treasures, like the ocean vistas along Australia’s Shipwreck Coast, accessible from the Great Ocean Road.

The sights and sounds of the ocean, even on cold days, can sooth the mind and body. Here, the view along Australia’s Shipwreck Coast encourages a slower pace. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

I am drawn to solitude and acts of selflessness and heroism. I admire the way Nelson Mandela, following his release in 1990 after 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid activities, used soccer to help unite his country. In 1995, one year after he was elected South Africa’s first black president, his country’s soccer team won the World Cup Championship.

My heart is caught by stories of hope, like Mandela’s, as well as by the music from a lonesome guitar. On desert hikes, and occasionally on our street, I exchange glances with wary coyotes and prowling bobcats. I am intrigued by the coiled rattlesnake. I enjoy watching a million stars in the night sky fade into a brilliant sunrise.

….Like a compass seeking true north

I prefer to keep company with those with compassion, who are interested listeners and decisive workers. Experienced listeners make the best reporters. A seasoned intellect is a powerful guiding force, like a compass seeking true north.

In interviews, journalists who avoid filling the gaps of silence with chitchat will obtain better information. In the end, their stories have more value. A recent and dramatic example of how best to interview and edit and photograph people and events is producer/director Steven Spielberg’s six-hour achievement, “Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero,” on Discovery Channel.

I enjoy history, so I’m drawn to ancient churches. One of my favorites is St. Margaret’s Church in London.

St. Margaret’s Church in London, next to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, is called the parish church of the House of Commons. St. Margaret’s was rebuilt in the 1500s. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

Disjointed meetings kill team spirit

I dislike the workplace meeting where everyone gets interrupted, especially by the prima donnas ­whose behaviors are tolerated by management. The result is a disjointed meeting that runs too long and achieves little.

Shy worker bees with much to offer, who are unafraid of bone-tiring work and who wish for a stronger team effort, will withdraw their loyalty. They will retreat from weak management and disjointed office meetings.

Among the few of my true friends is a publishing executive. If this person reads this, he or she will know to whom I’m referring. To you, my friend, I offer a heartfelt thank you. I hope you understand the positive role you played in my newspaper career.

Career boost

We started working together nearly a quarter-century ago. This publisher was part of an editorial committee that recruited me from a suburban newspaper.

On the career ladder, it was a move up several rungs. However, moving to a metro paper meant leaving a suburban publication where I earned more writing awards than I would ever earn again in my career of 30-plus years. I attribute those writing honors to the greater freedoms I had at the smaller paper.

Officer down

One story at the smaller paper began when a deputy police chief alerted me to the attempted murder of a police officer in his patrol car at dawn. The officer had been shot in the left side of his face with a shotgun. His attempts to radio for help were garbled because of the injuries to his face.

The officer survived; the shooter was caught. My story in the suburban paper about the officer’s weeks-long recovery was picked up by The Associated Press and published the next day in the metro region’s morning and afternoon papers. Careers at smaller newspapers are options I will always recommend to the newest J-school graduates.

To my publisher friend, I owe the importance of cultivating relationships with people. I learned that there is much more to interviews than asking questions. Which is why I prefer meeting people on their turf for face-to-face interviews. During a phone interview, you won’t see body language or the person’s family photographs and career trophies in his office. Can you see pain or sincerity in their eyes? Notice the executive’s red plaid golf shorts or his nervous rocking in his office chair.

A chance meeting, a passion for writing

My other important friend and mentor is my very best friend. We’ve been together since the day we met in 1969. We’ve shared many adventures across the United States and in other countries.

Powerscourt, with its take-your-breath-away beauty, includes a luxurious garden that puts more sparkle in rainy days. Notice the different colored pebbles arranged in designs on the steps. Powerscourt is a short drive from central Dublin. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

On a misty day, we wandered the gardens at Powerscourt House & Gardens in Ireland. We walked part of the Freedom Trail in Boston, reading headstones that date to the 1700s. Twice, with sore necks, we walked in wonder among the redwood giants in Muir Woods National Monument north of San Francisco. We enjoyed a summer vacation in John Steinbeck country in central California, from Carmel and Monterey to Point Lobos and Salinas.

Then there were the many adventures in Arizona, like the sunset visit to Canyon de Chelly, collecting fossils on the Mogollon Rim, and a winter hike along the Grand Canyon’s south rim where we saw deer and a bull elk grazing at sunrise on the grass outside the lodge.

Caught in the rain, then a trek through clouds

We once found ourselves in a morning sun shower on a beach on Kauai. We laughed and hugged in the soaking rain, enjoying the rain streaking our hair and waves lapping around our feet.

During another visit to Hawaii, we fed the cooing quail every evening on the patio at our Maui condo. We drove a winding road up through the morning clouds to the summit of Haleakala.

In recent years, there have been our memorable visits to Ireland, Australia (twice), England and France. In silence, letting our minds wander, we walked the square in Trinity College in Dublin. We toured St. Margaret’s Church, situated between Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament in London. We stood before Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower, and Shakespeare’s home. In a chilly wind, we stood on a cliff and admired the rock stacks in the waves along the Great Ocean Road on Australia’s Shipwreck Coast.

Roads into the future

Our future is an open road. I wish I could find a photograph I took of her at San Juan Capistrano that year we met. It was summer. She was walking between short hedges, coming around a corner in a garden at the ancient adobe California mission. I surprised her by taking her photograph. In my mind is the image of her surprise, and the love in her face.

Since our paths first crossed, we have helped each other through glad times and sad times.

She tolerates my weaknesses and encourages my strengths. To her, I owe my intellectual growth to a role in media where I helped readers learn more about their communities, neighbors and local governments.

All those years ago, her confidence in my work sparked a fire that continues burning. She encourages my passion for writing.

My wish is for everyone to have a companion or a friend whose encouragement helps reveal not only the power of words, but also the importance of listening and tolerance and compassion.

Updated Sept. 18, 2011

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Aug 31st, 2011

2 Comments to 'An Essay to Friends, Tolerance and the Power of Words'

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  1. Peg Hodges said,

    What a fabulous tribute to your true friends! Your essay, this one and many before it, are so thoughtful and well reasoned. I truly look forward to your thoughts and comments on so many subjects.

  2. Carol Romley said,

    Absolutely beautiful. I have nothing else to say because you said it all.
    Thank you for your stories each and every one is so special.

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