Judging Favorably

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Today, I learned about the Judaic concept of “dan l’kaf zichud,” or, about the obligation to judge others favorably.

In a nutshell, it is about giving someone the benefit of the doubt, not assuming a value judgment immediately about anything and everything. Given all the crap that goes on in the news, and on different social media platforms, and let’s face it — in all of our everyday interactions with people, no matter what we are doing — it can be hard not to automatically assign a value.

Even with Emmett Wilson’s research, I find myself judging him, his actions, his behavior 100 years after the fact. That’s problematic; it reveals that I don’t automatically look at him and his actions objectively, as a true social scientist should.

Maybe it is because I’ve gotten close to him, maybe it is because as a fellow alcoholic, I understand the warped thinking that comes with our disease.  Although I believe I have an accurate understanding of him after four years of studying his life, I didn’t know the man personally. I wish I did.

I don’t always think to give others (living and/or dead 100 years) the benefit of the doubt. But I admit that always assuming the worst of someone, or something, poisons one’s interpretation of information. Or of the person. And then, we miss out on the gift that other person, or that different information, can bring to us.

And that can be unfortunate.

This was an important and valuable lesson today.

(A tip of the hat to Jake Tapper for inspiring me to learn more about this important concept.)

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The Poet Laureate of Jackson County

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Last night as I was trolling through the 1895 microfilm of The Chipley Banner, I discovered that Emmett’s brother, the Hon. Cephas L. Wilson, Esq., had not only a legal license, but a poetic license.

Truth.

Chipley vs. Call, a poem by the Hon. Cephas L. Wilson, Esq. Originally composed in 1890.  Wonder why the editor held it back five years? Source: The Chipley Banner, 1895

Chipley vs. Call, a poem by the Hon. Cephas L. Wilson, Esq. Originally composed in 1890. It does sort-of fit the tune to “Turkey in the Straw.” Source: The Chipley Banner, 1895

Here’s more info about the poem from the same issue:

I'm curious why Ceph's poem was not published in 1890, when it was fresh from the Bard's pen. Source:  The Chipley Banner, 1895.

I’m curious why Ceph’s poem was not published in 1890, when it was fresh from the Bard’s pen. Source: The Chipley Banner, 1895.

I wonder why Ceph’s oeuvre was held back five years — perhaps the editor was waiting for Ceph to gain a little more prominence so that his verses would hit their target with more significance?

Perhaps Wilkinson Call was wanting a “Battle of the Political Poets” to held in the weekly newspapers, since Calliope was now whispering in the ears of both men? I haven’t found any poetic responses published by Call just yet.

Good poetry is hard to write. Also, not everyone can relate to poetry as it is often intended. I’m curious why Cephas resorted to poetry to criticize a political foe. I applaud Ceph’s effort, but he could have made a better impression with a more serious op/ed piece. Cephas makes several damaging claims against Call in the poem. Personally, I would take those claims more seriously if they were presented in a more formal style.

You know, Cephas long had images of grandeur and prominence. Cephas may not have considered himself a poet, as his typical written product included writs, torts, and subpoenas. It would be a stretch to classify a legal opinion as poetic free verse.

Come ye single ladies and listen to my lays, I'm Cephas the Bard, the loosener of stays.

Come ye single ladies and listen to my lays, I’m Cephas the Bard, the loosener of stays.

Still, Ceph had an ego the size of the Florida governor’s mansion. I wonder if, as he penned this verse, he considered himself the next Bard of Marianna.

Perhaps, he thought, as he worked diligently on the rhyme and meter, there’s a market out there for this! Perhaps, he thought, this was the beginning of his career as a true Renaissance man! He could imagine himself in tights (the ladies would like that), his poetry set to music, as he wandered about the Marianna town square on Saturday nights, offering culture to the masses, as only Cephas could do.

Perhaps Cephas asked Lula if she thought his poem was ballad-worthy. Might his dear Lula, his musically talented wife, do him the honor of setting his words to music?

And Lula probably said, “Yeah, I can see this being sung to the tune of ‘Turkey in the Straw.’ You being the turkey, of course.”


I don’t know about you, but I run hot and cold with poetry: I either like it or I don’t. I have two favorite poets: Rainer Maria Rilke and Miller Williams.

Clearly, Ceph is no Rilke or Williams. But as I critique Ceph’s poetic effort, I am reminded of a quote from Williams:

“Have compassion for everyone you meet, even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit, bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.”

There’s a good story behind why Ceph went after Call via a poem. I’d love to discover it. If and when I do, you can be sure I’ll share it here.