The Walking Man, And What His Story Says About Us

Much has been made in recent days about James Robertson, the 56-year-old Detroit factory worker who commuted on foot 21 miles to and from his job for 10 years after his car broke down and he could not afford to fix it. There is no question that Robertson's is a heartwarming story; he was never late to work nor absent a single time in those 10 years. And the response once the world got wind of it was no less amazing; more than $300,000 toward providing Robertson with a new car was raised in just a few days.

What I've not yet run across in any of the coverage about "the walking man" is how or why no one stepped up to help him until this past week. This is not to diminish the actions of those who have pitched in for Robertson's sake – donations quickly poured in from all over. But what does it say about us a society, and about the community that he lives and works in, that Robertson was making this 21-mile trek every working day for a decade, and no colleague, no neighbor, no relative made themselves available to offer him a ride even part of the way, even some of the time? It took a benevolent stranger offering occasional rides for Robertson's story to come to light.

It's heartening to know that there are so many people out there willing – and able – to do good, who think nothing of contributing to the well being of a man they've never met. But I cannot help wondering why those who did know Robertson, who worked with him, or lived near him, could not or would not do the same during the decade leading up to this week's whirlwind of news coverage and donations.

Perhaps, as we joyfully share the story of James Robertson with our friends and family via social media, we might take a lesson from it as well. Make that two lessons – one, appreciate what you have; and two, look for ways you might share what you have with someone nearby who might need your help. Let us be inspired to a make James Robertson a model for our own neighborhoods and workplaces.


Quote of the Day – Opting All The Way Out Edition

Chris Christie, the gift that just keeps on giving, says that parents should have choice when it comes to whether or not to having their children vaccinated. And, you know, in a certain sense he’s right. I think that nobody should be forced, by governmental power or corporate, to have their children injected with any particular kinds of chemicals or agents. I just think that a refusal to do so should necessitate that those children be barred from entering public spaces, most certainly including public schools. The fact that this provision is not already implied in this discussion demonstrates the degree to which the individualist fantasy undercuts meaningful American discussion of communal and social responsibility. Infectious disease is a perfect lens through which to view the notions of responsibility towards the broader society in which you reside. You don’t choose to be part of the spread of a disease like measles, but you’re implicated in its spread by your actions whether you choose to or not. The only way to opt out of the responsibility to vaccinate is to truly withdraw from the broader society, physically withdraw to the point where you pose no risk of infecting others. 

Fredrik deBoer


Quote of the Day – Slings and Errors Edition

[E]rror is an essential part of any real intellectual pursuit....

[Y]ou do not have to pretend to be smarter than you are. And when you have made the error of pretending to be smarter, or when you simply have been wrong, you can say so and you can say it straight—without self-apology, without self-justifying garnish, without "if I have offended"....

Honesty demands not just that you accept your errors, but that your errors are integral to developing a rigorous sense of study. I have found this to be true in, well, just about everything in life.