The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not SVB Financial Group.
Do you really want to hurt me?
Do you really want to make me cry?
- Boy George
There is much to be learned about life by simply observing human behavior.
Last week, I had an opportunity to learn something about myself that was both surprising and revealing with regard to the analysis of economic and policy woes of today.
I was having a nice dinner at a lightly populated restaurant in Dallas Tuesday night sitting at the bar when an inebriated fellow came strolling in from outside. He was so obviously soused as to call attention to himself from the four bartenders who overstaffed the place (contrary to what current employment figures might suggest).
Before even choosing a seat, he began rambling loudly about the Brett Favre news being looped on the three ESPN channels flashing pictures of his jet, car and entourage.
"Brett Favre! Brett Favre! Who cares a flip about Brett Favre!"
Being the lucky lottery winner of the night, this fellow chose a seat right next to me and continued to blare on about what a waste of broadcast time it was to focus on one player. The slight female bartender assigned to our section approached with obvious caution and asked if he would like a drink.
"Iced tea! And no gosh darn lemon!" (I'm cleaning up a bit of the language here "for the sake of the children" as they say). This statement must have taken some energy from him; he almost toppled from the barstool as he leaned a good half-foot to one side during his exortation.
Trying to make myself as small as possible, I focused on my laptop, where I was catching up on e-mails after my flight into town, but keeping one ear open hoping not to miss any entertaining activity.
With his iced tea in hand, our unlikely hero began reading the menu loudly and filled with commentary and expletives. The bar area was loud, though not crowded, so it was unlikely his volume invaded anyone's space except for mine and the bartender.
By this time, the bartenders had gathered with one of the managers to explain the situation. I could tell by their looks they weren't quite sure what to do and I admit I was curious what would happen next.
The manager came over with two of the larger male bartenders in tow and simply asked to take his order.
"The Shrimp Po-Boy, please and make it the healthy way!"
"Do you mean grilled, sir?"
"I don't know! All I know is I want it the way I had it last time and I can't remember because I've had this stroke!"
All of us immediately shrunk on our heels, and the two burly bartenders slunk away quickly.
Once the manager moved away, I decided this lonely individual was simply looking for some company and wanted to discuss the sporting news of the day. So I closed my laptop, looked him in the eye and said, "Tell me what you think about this Brett Favre news."
For the next hour or so, he regaled me with all sorts of viewpoints on the sporting news of the day and I learned many things including:
• Brett Favre's been playing an amazing 20 years in the NFL
• He holds the record for consecutive starts at 285 (309 including playoffs)
• He's been to the Pro Bowl 11 years and the MVP 3 consecutive years.
I don't believe any of us should feel guilty for pre-judging this fellow. In this day and age, we all have to be a little more on-guard than in the past, but I do think there is an interesting lesson to be learned here.
Today, in the political world too many of us are prejudging both those whom we generally agree with and those we don't. For some reason, if you believe in a free market economy with limited government you are expected to believe in the right to own firearms. If you believe in government as the preferred provider for certain services, you are expected to be against the death penalty. If you read the Drudge Report, you likely do not read the Huffington Post and vice versa.
We are the most free society that exists on the planet and yet we continuously restrict our fellow citizens from such freedom by painting them into a box. This polarization of Americans' attitudes is unhealthy both in the short run and in the long run. In the short run, we waste time focusing on unimportant details or outlier observations that don't drive the average experience. In the long run, we can come so far apart as not to agree on anything, splitting the country — or indeed the globe — into many different and divergent societies.
Instead, we should treat each other with respect, following the "golden rule" of treating others as we would like to be treated. In fact, I might even go so far as to say given the same facts and the time to discuss points of views and opinions, any two people plucked from any two backgrounds can come to the same conclusion on almost any topic.
Our unlikely hero undoubtedly faces the same sort of prejudgment every single day of his life. But he's not much different than the rest of us in that respect.
Is this something we can change? Can we have honest open debate focusing on facts rather than drama?
I certainly hope so.
The New York Fed's Empire State Manufacturing Index rose to 7.1 in August, even as most components were lower on the month. Most concerning was a decline in new orders down to -2.71, which is its first negative reading in over a year. In confirmation, this Philadelphia Fed's general activity index fell 12.8 points to -7.7 in August, experiencing its first decline since July 2009.
Initial Unemployment Claims rose to 500,000 which is this measure's highest level since November 14, 2009. There could be some quirkiness going on here as some claimants filing for the new extension may have been mis-categorized as new claimants. This sort of mistake has been made in the past.
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