The Better Angels of Our Natures


Alisa and I took my mother on a picnic to Kolob Canyons, which is, frankly, an amazing little section of red rock about 25 minutes south of us. When we got to the parking lot, we met a trio of fellas just a-leaning against the chest high iron fence, taking in the vista through a variety of optical devices ranging from a disposable camera to mid-range Nikon field glasses.

The middle dude was talking about Robert Redford, which led him to discuss the Hole in the "Rock" (he assured his companions it was just on the other side of the mountain). That discussion of Hole in the "Rock"--I'm sure he meant Hole in the Wall--led him to speak of an article he'd read in a magazine (in flight, or was it the Sunday paper?). The article was about how Paul Newman said something about the time when he played the Sundance Kid.

"Sundance Kid?" this man protested. "Newman didn't play the Sundance Kid. They need to get their facts straight, for crying out loud!"

The other fellas grumbled their assent and went on with their viewing. My mother, came trundling along and called out to me with a "Hey you?" The fella who had been initially outraged at the article turned to her and said, "Like Sylvester Stallone said: 'You talking to me?'" Everyone sort of laughed, and my mother said, "No. I'm talking to my kid."

Now, this put me in a spot. Under the best of circumstances, people don't like to be corrected. But facts is facts.

I didn't want to have to break it to him that Robert Deniro had, in fact, said those words in Taxi Driver, but it seemed important to say something, given that guy's whole "get your facts straight" line. But some wiser part of me whispered that if I corrected him, he would probably go through some elaborate social escape algorithm, which would embarrass everyone.

So, I let it ride, and I ended up happier than I might have otherwise been. I write this because I want to remember the lesson.