Sunday, February 02, 2014

Learning From Others

Archie (Carroll O'Connor): Let me ask you something there, about George. I mean, how did that happen to him? When he was a baby, did somebody throw him up in the air and forget to catch him?

Mr. Bushmill (Joseph Mascolo): It's a common birth defect. The doctors call it anoxia. It means he didn't get enough oxygen when he was born. Now that's what happened to George. What's your excuse?

In these days of excessive political correctness, it seems to be all too easy to lose sight of the people P.C. supposedly is intended to protect.

I often think it would be beneficial for the people who are quick to judge others by an arbitrary yardstick of morality (which is frequently designed, I suspect, to elevate the judge, not lift the oppressed) to watch a few TV episodes that dealt with the physically/mentally challenged a few decades ago. Seems to me they offer some common sense tips for understanding people.

Such a TV episode aired 40 years ago tonight on All in the Family.

Gloria (Sally Struthers) came home from a trip to the market with a mentally handicapped box boy named George (Richard Masur) helping her with her groceries.

"You don't say things to me," George told Gloria. "You talk to me."

Archie (Carroll O'Connor), in his typically insensitive way, treated George like a child and told him he was entitled to take an extended break from work. Then George got fired from his job for being late and disappeared.

George's father (Joseph Mascolo) came to the Bunker house looking for George. After being told that George's last words to the Bunkers were "I'll show you," he concluded that George would be back to show them something and decided to wait for awhile.

While he waited, George's father spoke of the difficulty George faced in finding a job. He asked Archie if he would hire George where he worked — at the loading dock.

"No," Archie replied. "Where I work, you gotta to be on your toes. And to be on your toes, you gotta know where your toes are."

In fact, George did return to the Bunker home. He had a quotation that he kept at the store that he wanted to share. It was one of my favorite quotes from 19th–century writer and educator Thomas Carlyle: "Every man is my superior in that I may learn from him."

Archie, of course, didn't get it. "It means everyone is smarter than you, Arch," said Mike (Rob Reiner).

"Oh, no, Mike," protested George. "It means that anyone can learn from anyone — even from me!"

Then George announced that he had found a new job, and he was asked for details about his new job. Turned out it was on a loading dock — same as Archie.

I have admired Masur's work for a long time, and I remember seeing him in this episode, but I didn't realize until recently that it was his professional broadcasting debut. He had been acting on Broadway for awhile, but, since this episode aired, most of his work has been on TV — with a few big–screen performances thrown in the mix.

People often erect the barriers that keep them from learning from others, whether they are mentally challenged or not. On this night 40 years ago, All in the Family reminded us that there are all kinds of things to learn from other people — and that disabilities are not always disabling.