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The beauties of thinking before acting

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By ELIJAH GOSIER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 25, 2002


Brandon Eldred, like so many criminals after they had no success saying they didn't do it, finally was remorseful last Wednesday, was a changed man, had found religion.

My humble opinion: The recasting of self should help him and those like him get through their time in prison, but shouldn't affect one whit the judge's call on how long they stay there.

It is easy to claim remorse after you're caught, easy to call on the Lord when no one else wants to hear what you have to say, easy to say you're somebody else when everyone despises who you are.

Eldred, 18, had plenty of time to make his new-found discoveries. But the revelations didn't come at any point during the time it took him and a partner to bash, one after another, three llamas in East Lake. It didn't happen while a couple of bulls in Hillsborough County struggled with arrows the two had shot into their flesh.

Why now? Could it possibly have had anything to do with the three years he was facing on animal cruelty charges?

I'm not picking on Eldred. He simply joins a long line of convicted criminals who suddenly turned their lives around in front of a judge and jury.

But more than that, he did what seems to be the norm for most of us: Act impetuously, without thinking or thinking only of our own immediate interests, then apologize profusely -- but only when we have to.

From the way we drive to the way we watch television to the way we alter our sporting events, one thing becomes clearer by the minute: Deliberation is losing favor with humans. Evidence abounds that not only don't we spend much time thinking: We don't want to. In fact, if the trends we've set become part of our evolutionary fabric, the lives of the next few layers of humanity will be longer, crowded with experiences and virtually devoid of meaning.

They will be like MTV videos -- frenetic flashes of color and action -- with nothing allotted enough time to be contemplated.

Consider the way we drive. Traffic planners have wasted their efforts synchronizing traffic lights on long stretches of street so that drivers who maintain a steady pace are rewarded with finding each light green when they reach it. But the whole idea has been undermined by clueless drivers who seem more intent on being the first one to get to a red light than with the convenience of not having to stop. Consequently, they race to the light before it changes, punishing the sensible drivers who then have to stop behind them. So much for synchronized traffic lights.

Drivers on St. Petersburg's Central Avenue, which has two-way, two-lane traffic, routinely place more value on a parking space than on their lives or others'. Ignoring the illegality and danger of their maneuver, drivers often make hasty U-turns across oncoming traffic to stake their claims to a scarce diagonal parking space on the other side of the street, frequently causing a traffic backup as cars traveling in both directions wait for them to make the car fit.

It is typical of the selfish, ego-driven impulses that cause so many drivers to risk their lives and yours for no practical reason.

There is obviously no thought process at work. If there is, it is of little significance that it might as well go the way of the appendix as evolution continues to streamline us for functionality. If we don't use it, then we don't need it, so why bother to lug it around?

We've already expelled thoughtfulness from much of our entertainment. Television, for instance, is so devoid of substance that a "show about nothing" was long considered one of its best offerings. In too much of television and cinema, story is little more than a thin thread on which to hang action sequences and locker room jokes.

Television even provides the luxury of a remote control so that if the action's too slow on one channel, the viewer can speed it up artificially by watching 150 others -- each a couple of seconds.

We've even tried to eject the little bit of thinking required by sports. Even with some tinkering to speed up the action, regular football was too slow, so we shortened the field and quickened the play with arena football.

Baseball wasn't as fortunate. Rather than create an MTV version, folks in charge keep tinkering with the original, doing everything they can to marginalize the duel between pitcher and batter and the intricacies, so the clueless spectator can see more home runs. Few care anymore about the duel between pitcher and batter, few even notice the couple of crucial steps the fielders adjust left or right based on whether the pitcher is throwing inside or outside to the batter.

The game is dumbing down to fans who just want to see something spectacular.

I like deliberation. I like the finer points. I like to watch the parts of games that don't make instant replay. I watch the players' body language -- even when they're not writhing in pain after a collision at home plate.

I like deliberation. Even though it is often time-consuming and unspectacular, it is often the difference between choosing a good word as opposed to the right word.

It is also often the difference between the right course and a deadly one.

It is often the only difference between stumbling through a worthless apology and having nothing for which to apologize.

It is often the difference between mouthing unbelieved remorse and having done nothing for which remorse is due.

In little ways and ways that are as big as life itself, we are losing, if not the ability, the will to think. For our sake, and the sake of children not yet considered, we need to think about that.

When you have time maybe.

-- To reach Elijah Gosier, call (727) 893-8650 or e-mail gosier@sptimes.com.

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