for release Friday April 2, 2003
by Melodie Davis
My Fifteen Minutes of Ignominy
I should have known better. I had an invitation to participate in a local “celebrity” spelling bee hosted by a radio station, conducted for the sole purpose of getting people to the spring home and garden show at the local mall. I think it was the letter referring to me as a celebrity that appealed to my baser instincts and motivated me to give up a precious hour on Saturday morning to go out to the mall and embarrass myself. I was just glad that no one from my family was able to be there.
I was the first one out of the spelling bee. There were only seven contestants, but still. You would think a writer, author, editor and all around print junkie who has made her living as a wordsmith for the last 25 plus years could spell such a simple word as “oppress.” With two p’s instead of one. I even care about oppressed peoples, for pity sakes. So I got it wrong, and sat down in disgrace.
Of course the emcee had warmed us up with several rounds of 5th and 6th grade four- and five-letter spelling bee words. None of which I can remember now! I do remember that other people eventually went out on words like tutu and genius. Neither of those would have been a problem for me, unless in the tension of the moment, I would have flubbed too.
My office colleagues consoled me with “If you had seen it in print, you would have gotten it.” And that’s true, I hope. It wasn’t just the computer’s spell checker that has ruined my spelling, ironically. I think the real gremlin is the little tool that automatically corrects my commonly misspelled (like that one) words as I go. So the writer is never confronted with silly and stupid mistakes (only the unusual, bad, really sloppy ones). I am never confronted by my common mistakes or spelling sins, if you will.
The spelling bee was a good lesson in humility. (Serves any celebrity-wanna-be right, right?) I laughed about it but of course I would have preferred not to be the first person out. However, I figured if all I got out of it was a red face and a coupon for a free large pizza (plus freebie tickets to a craft show I probably won’t go to), the least I could do was wrench a column out of it. Because I do think there is a larger lesson in what happens when we try to cover over the “little mistakes” we make all the time, and never confront our wrong doings.
I’m talking about an old fashioned concept called conscience. What happens if all of the people I hang around with, work with, go to school with, read, watch on TV, etc. do not challenge me to live a life of integrity, honesty and character? What happens if I grow numb to the little inner voice that makes me feel good when I do what is good and right, and the little voice that makes me feel small, bad or naughty when I don’t act with integrity? Is there any role for conscience in this enlightened day of “anything goes,” “whatever,” “you do your thing, I’ll do mine” and smorgasbord religion? People need moral guidelines, or there is no real purpose in living.
People talk about “making an example” of Martha Stewart, as if that were a bad thing. I bet she is wishing some red light would have gone off in her head when her broker called her with news of the slipping stock. Selling the stock maybe can be defended, (don’t people usually pay their stockbrokers to keep them appraised of stock market trends?), but not the lying and obstruction of justice. But, who of us is so free of wrong doing that we have any right to pass judgment or cast a stone, except the court system?
Now, I think that the ex-leaders of WorldCom and Enron should be punished far more severely for the economic hardship they caused so many others, but I’m in agreement with the 89 percent (at one website of more than 30,000 votes cast) that the judicial ruling against Martha was correct.
I do think such examples remind us that there is right and wrong and sometimes lines do get drawn.
Maybe I should turn the automatic spelling corrector on my computer off. And hey, maybe while I’m at it, I should find a gizmo that is a humility checker, a thing that would go off when I am inclined to do or participate in something only to support my ego. Hmm…
Do you have any stories of humiliation to share? And what you learned? Send to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 795 words; end material = 105 words
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