The late 1960’s were a turbulent time, somewhat like the period we’re living through now. Starting in 1965, I attended a small liberal arts college in a mid-sized Virginia city. Through studies and socializing, I was exposed to professors and fellow students with a variety of backgrounds and opinions, some quite different from the prevailing views in the small Maryland town where I’d spent my first 18 years. Off campus in our college town, though, prevailing sentiments were every bit as conservative as those I’d grown up with.
Sometimes as a break from my studies, I listened briefly to a local radio station. Usually I was just trying to catch a local weather report, but I often wound up exposed to all or part of a nationally syndicated news broadcast by radio announcer Paul Harvey (Aurandt). I don’t remember much specific content from Paul Harvey’s broadcasts, but I recall a general tone. In a 2009 obituary, his style was characterized as valuing “rugged individualism, love of God and country, and the fundamental decency of ordinary people.” Through my newly expanded collegiate lens, it seemed to me that Harvey was leaving out huge parts of the news—events and perspectives that did not coincide with his spin. I was learning of historic lynchings, seeing housing and employment discrimination firsthand, experiencing the escalation of the Vietnam war, noting the routine harrassment of minorities and women. None of this seemed fundamentally decent. I began to question the premises of Harvey’s perspective.
A segment I often caught before the weather forecast was “The Rest of the Story,” typically a relatively unknown part of the life story of a famous person. One especially widely heard segment is about a high school dropout who applied in his early 20’s for an entry level job at the Swiss patent office and nearly didn’t get it. Not until the end of the segment are we told that “Al” may have suffered early life failures, but eventually went on to become world-famous as theoretical physicist Albert Einstein
(for a rebroadcast, listen to https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2v3sh1). Part of the rest of Paul Harvey’s life story was a February, 1951 trespass onto the grounds of government classified research agency Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago for which he was never charged.
These days I have a schizoid relationship with media. I need to stay informed; too often a media broadcast or internet post leaves me inflamed instead. It is very difficult to follow any news source for long without buying into some of its inherent biases. Images of a violent mob storming the U.S. Capitol are hard to ignore or stay indifferent to. Is there a rest of the story? Temporarily putting aside the role of Mr. Trump, what were the varying motivations that led some to become violent, others to remain as bystanders, and most of America’s population to stay away? Is there anything to be learned from the life histories of those who demonstrated, those who desecrated, those who tried to defuse tensions, those who attempted to report live as events unfolded?
Few of the reports I’ve heard yet can provide much insight. Too often we get competing narratives that emphasize conflicting aspects of reality. About the only commonality seems to be that all of us are tense.
We may never know the whole story. Imperfect, incomplete knowledge is part of the human condition. However, if we listen more and speak less, do the messy work of decoupling legitimate grievances from scapegoating and vengeance, insist on both accountability and mercy, we may learn more of the rest of the story.