Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Little people" are big people, too

      "What about the little people?" The Man has asked me repeatedly over the years. "Why don't you write about the little people."
      The Man is one of those people I listen to, always have. He is a philosopher, a keen observer of life, of those around him. So I've had to think a long, long time how to approach this subject.
      He is not talking about people small in stature (like me or my parents). He is talking about unsung heroes, those who aren't in the headlines, but who are essential to whatever cause they're dealing in.
      The Man and I look at this from the standpoint of athletics because that was our initial common bond. But it's more a big-picture issue. We have these "little people" in our everyday lives. We need them.
      Most weeks, I see this man a few times, some days twice -- maybe in mid-morning and after dusk. He's wearing his brown uniform (usually with shorts) and driving a brown truck. He's a UPS delivery man in our area.
      I wave at him; he waves at me. If I'm close enough, I kid him about working so many hours. He's always smiling.
      When I was on an elevator in our apartment building recently, it stopped on the third floor, and the UPS man stepped in. It was after dark. "Hey, how ya doing?" he said as pleasant as could be. I noted that it was after 7 and he was still delivering. "Got to work," he answered.
      I asked his name. It's Jesse.
      So you could say he's one of the "little people" in our world, an unsung hero. But is he, really?
      Because Jesse might be a father, husband, brother, uncle. Bet he's a big person to some folks, to his UPS bosses, to the people receiving his deliveries.
      And we have our mail delivery people -- I see three or four "regulars" many weekdays on my walks -- and our clerks at the convenience stores/gas stations, the officers and tellers at the bank, the checkout people at the grocery stores, the people in our apartment office, the custodians at our place, the workers at the YMCA where we work out. Unsung "little people."
      Do we even know their names? First names ... if they're wearing name tags. Rarely do we know the full names; rarely does it matter.
      The person with whom I share our apartment -- we've shared for 38-plus years and she is, to be certain, not an unsung hero -- does not like "labeling." I learned long ago that while watching athletic events using the terms "choker" and "stupid" and "gutless" was unacceptable. So the "little people" concept does not work for her.
      But for the purpose of this blog, I continue. Her question is: Where do you draw the line between "little people" and "big people?"
      I'm taking this under advisement.
      I consider doctors, nurses, scientists, attorneys "big people." Important jobs, and most have put in the years of study to reach their positions. I admire educators at all levels; when you havea classroom of people you're trying to fill with information and guidance, it's not easy.
      Politicians? I'd like to because they can make a difference in our lives, but so many seem so misguided. Policemen and firemen ... unsung heroes so often.
      But in each case, you experience those doctors and attorneys -- just to pick on them -- who are in it strictly for the money, who don't have people skills to our liking. We dealt with a doctor recently who was demeaning and arrogant and dismissive. I could go on; you get the idea. He was a "little people," and I mean attitude-wise.
      In my fields of interest, coaches were always "big people." Newspaper editors, too. Columnists, especially sports columnists. Lots of respect for those people, and I tried to learn from as many as I could.
      But again, I thought some coaches (really abusive, foul-mouthed ones) and editors and writers were bullies and self-serving and, while very successful, their reputations were overblown, at least in my opinion. They might have been "big people," but I thought they acted small. Still, many people revered them. Go figure.
      If you've read my blog at times, you might know that I think there are many TV/radio blowhard announcers (many in sports, but others, too) who think they're big, but they're not. Only thing big about them is their mouth and maybe their salary.
      I was always better in the "little people" role, whether I was a football/basketball/baseball team manager-statistician or a behind-the-scenes sports copy editor. When I had a kind of "big people" role as a sports editor, I was only as good as the people working with me. When they weren't as good, I didn't handle it well.
      Besides, the "big people" role as a husband, father and Opa was a helluva lot more important than anything in sports or newspapers.
      In athletic terms, what The Man had in mind, perhaps, was the linemen who do the really hard work in football, the small guard in basketball who dishes out the assists and sacrifices his body to take charges from much bigger players, the light-hitting second baseman who puts down the sacrifice bunt to put the winning run in scoring position and whose defensive play turns around the game (or a World Series).
      In football, the offensive linemen used to be a 140-pound guard or 165-pound tackle 50 years ago; these days, even the "little people" in high school are light at 225 pounds. When it's college football or the NFL, you might be talking 250.
      But those guys are crucial to a team's success, just as the everyday "little people" in our lives.
      "Some would think that these people are simply low-level producers and ride the waves of the more elite," The Man told me in a message a few weeks ago before a big football game. "I love good leadership; it so necessary, and is hard to find.
      "But we hear too much about the talent and heroics of these [people]. What about the foot soldier that took the bullet so the general could get the reward? So it will be this Super Bowl: Which team has the best foot soldiers, not the best generals."
      Think about it: The game's most crucial play, at the end, was made by a player you probably had never heard of. A "little people" coming up big.
      Here's what the Official Blog Adviser said: It doesn't matter who you are or what you do; it's how you treat others, how you live your life that really determines where you are a big person or a little person.


  1. From Kitty van der Woude: Hi, what a subject! To me big people were always the ones who in the war hid Jews at the risk of their own lives. Many of those heroes were shot. And the ones doing all the work to keep the resistance movement going, organizing food coupons and money, and after September 1944 rowing wounded English pilots to liberated areas ... many lost their lives in doing so. And they did not even have recognizable names. Bea is right: Where do you draw the line?

  2. From Frank Bright: I think that your punch line was spot on, as the Brits say.

  3. From Dick Hicks: Great article, as usual, but must admit the names immediately jumped in my mind when you said "little people" -- Whitey Ford, Nellie Fox, Bill Mazeroski and Curt Flood, just to name a few.

  4. From Ike Futch: I have a son that's one of those "little people." Always enjoy your blogs.

  5. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California): "I think it's easy for people like you and me, who wear suits and ties and work in offices, to cast aspersions on those with 10th grade educations. And I certainly hope you're not saying that only those with college degrees or high school degrees should be eligible for federal benefits.
    "But let's talk about some of these folks with the 10th grade educations, such as Maria Isabel Jimenez. She was a farm worker, 17 years old. She worked for nine hours one day on a farm near Stockton in brutal heat, without shade or water, and then she collapsed. She was taken to the hospital. Her body temperature was 108.4 degrees. She died two days later.
    "When I was in the California state legislature, I had the opportunity to meet — over many years — many farm workers who've had families die in brutal conditions in the heat, so that you and I can have less expensive orange juice, cheaper artichokes, less expensive garlic.
    "And I just want to suggest that people like Maria Isabel Jimenez ... that her net contribution in dying so that you and I can have cheaper grocery bills so that we can spend less, she's given far more to American society than you or I ever will."