Taking people at face value

Published 7:54 pm Saturday, November 9, 2013

By Dennis Edwards

What happened to life? How did everything get so complicated?

When did we start putting labels on each other like liberal and conservative? When and why did we assign sinister motives to each other? When did we lose the ability to take things and each other at face value?

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“Face value” is a term I didn’t always want to understand in younger years. When I’d complain about something said or done, my parents threw me that irritating riddle “Don’t worry about it. Take it at face value, forget it.”

How dare they dismiss my budding indignation! Or did they? Maybe I missed the message, overlooked the hint. Perhaps the fault was mine for hearing what I thought was said, instead of hearing what was actually said.

The truth is we do that to each other all the time. “So what you’re saying is…?” Many a man’s evening has been ruined by that phrase. Sometimes what people say is all they mean. Maybe there’s no hidden meaning. Maybe when a guy says he doesn’t like the dress, all he means is just that. He does not mean he doesn’t like the person wearing it.

I got an unforgettable lesson about face value early in my career.

My first job in television news was as a photographer/editor. I learned to shoot and edit video the old-fashioned way, with a light meter, a 16mm film camera and a film edit bench.

The man who hired me was John Shand, an old-school guy who ran WTVR-TV 6 in Richmond, “The South’s First Television Station.” NBC sent John, with his white, handlebar mustache, to Richmond in 1948. He put the station on the air 12 years before I was born.

John told me up front how he was what he called “a reformed racist,” a former “staunch segregationist,” and how time and experience had led him to reverse his attitudes, to embrace and champion the integration of television news.

He convinced me to take a photog’s job I didn’t want as a way to get a foot in the door. From there, I became a reporter/photographer, reporter and anchor. It all happened because I accepted the “face value” advice of a self-proclaimed “reformed racist.” His help launched an Emmy award-winning career that took me all over the country.

Whenever I inquired about his evolution all he’d say is “I realized I was wrong.” What an amazing admission from a 60-plus year-old man to a kid who was all of 20-something. For some reason, he took me at “face value” and trusted me with his story.

John’s explanation of his evolution has much in common with Mills Godwin Jr.’s transformation from “spokesperson for massive resistance” to champion of racial inclusion.

When asked in later years why he changed, the governor said, “It was the right thing to do.”

Isn’t it amazing how genius simplifies the seemingly complicated, how personal clarity becomes permission for so many others? In his book “James Kilpatrick: Salesman For Segregation” William Hustwit outlines Kilpatrick’s transformation from the man who passionately argued against the mixing of races to the man who said, “I was wrong about my former stand on the rightness of state-sanctioned discrimination.”

For various reasons, these men came to a different realization in later years. I often wonder why younger men can’t do that sooner?

All of us are evolving. Nobody stays the same. Maybe the lesson in all of this is to just take each other at face value. After all, Uncle Walter used to say “Time changes things,” and eventually it’ll change us too.

Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter and anchor, He is a 1974 graduate of Suffolk High School. Email him at dennisredwards@verizon.net.