President's Message: Things That Matter - By Mark Snodgrass

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Wednesday, January 30th, 2019

Sitting down to write this February column, I am somewhat at a dead end on things to write about. The holidays are over and it is time to get to get back in the saddle and get on with the practice of law. All the news outside the office seems to be tied in to politics. The federal government is partially shut down due to a standoff over a border wall. The Texas Legislature is back in session, and many villages feel like they are missing an idiot. Every day it seems a new Democrat is announcing that he or she will run for president.

When I was assigned to write this monthly column, I was told I could write about whatever I wanted. While sometimes tempted to express my views on the political matters of the day, I have tried my best to keep those opinions to my everyday life, as I am aware that this organization has members of all political affiliations, religious affiliations, all races, all sexes, and all creeds. I just figured that I really do not have any business espousing a political platform in the name of this great organization.

That took me back to square one. The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was fast approaching. One of my fondest memories as a part of this organization occurred during a trip to Memphis in February 2009 with Rick Hagen on his TCDLA president’s trip. We were truly fortunate to have a tour of the National Civil Rights Museum located at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis where Dr. King was assassinated. Prior to our tour, we had a luncheon with the Reverend Billy Kyles. Reverend Kyles spoke to us and relived the assassination through his eyes while standing on that famous balcony next to Dr. King. I will never forget looking around the room and seeing grown men and women with tears in their eyes as Reverend Kyles described Dr. King, what he was doing, and what he stood for.

One thing that stuck with me was Reverend Kyles telling us that all the leaders in the civil rights movement there that day—Himself, Dr. King, Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, and Ralph Abernathy—were all 40 or so years old. He pointed this out to show us that you didn’t have to be old to make a difference or make things happen. These people were able to change the world for the better at a young age.

Trying to come up with something to write about, I started looking at quotes of Dr. King. One that stuck out to me is this: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

After thinking about that quote, I realized I could no longer stay silent about a longtime controversial subject—chili. The great debate of beans vs. no beans in chili has been going on as long as I can remember, and people usually take a pretty firm position on the issue. I must admit up front, however, that I am willing to eat a bowl of chili with or without beans. Heck, I personally have been known to add beans for a little cheap filler when people I don’t really like are likely to show up for a bowl of red.

A quick glance at social media will show there are people on both sides of this great debate. The internet has made everyone an expert on chili, just as it does with most other topics. People seem to give their opinion as if other people actually care about their preference. People are turning against lifelong friends. In my life I have never seen people this polarized about the issue of chili. If I did not know better, I would swear the Russians are trying to stir up controversy in the great beans-versus-no beans debate.

So, coming full circle, I asked myself what Dr. King would think about chili. My guess is he would judge chili by the character of its content. My guess is he would not mind people challenging the societal norms of today, but he would object to bigotry and prejudice simply because the chili did not look like the chili to which he was accustomed to having. I think Dr. King would tell you he dreams of a day when men and women and children of all races and beliefs could sit down over a bowl of chili and have a rational discussion.

Dr. King once said, “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

When people believe their way is the only acceptable way and are unwilling to simply listen because the other side is different, there is never a winner. So, my hope in this new year is that we somehow can listen to each other and communicate. Whether it be with judges, juries, prosecutors, or simply your neighbor. After all, even a bad bowl of chili is still a bowl of chili.