To: Well, I don’t know your name, I only know your actions and your obvious character flaw, so for the sake of keeping it short, I’ll refer to you as "Mister Bicycle."
I decided to write this in the hope that you’d see it. Purely out of amusement at first, I assure you. But after some significant thought on the matter I have decided that your actions may provide my fellow Alaskans a chance to learn a lesson for living well.
To ensure you remember exactly the circumstances surrounding your actions, and to indulge readers who did not witness them, I shall elaborate upon the scenario.
Around five in the afternoon of the 23rd of September on The University of Alaska Anchorage Campus, I decided to walk out of the ConocoPhillips Integrated Science Building and spoil myself by having a cigarette. Knowing how rude it is to blow smoke in the faces of others, I moved to the north side of the building, a hundred feet away from any entrance, and stood on the edge of the grass on the south side of the trail with the wind at my face, ensuring that the smoke I exhaled didn’t waft across the trail and disturb others.
Apparently this wasn’t enough for you.
As I was enjoying my last draw, you sped along on your bike, and in your fashionable blue windsuit went completely out of your way on a 30-foot-wide path to share your opinion of my occasional cigarette. You nearly clipped me with your bicycle, and shouted some unprintable words at me as you passed to ensure your opinion would register.
Being a real man, I expected you to stop and elaborate because that’s what real men do. Instead, you continued cycling down the path. A small part of me, the part that I used to confront and destroy terrorists and other enemies of the United States in my twenty-seven months in Afghanistan, wished you had stopped and acted like a real man.
It would have been comical for those around us, watching me, a big, bearded, 28-year-old guy verbally dress-down a man in his fifties for acting like a spoiled child.
Since you didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to answer for your furious insults, I wanted to thank you for giving me the perfect example of how not to act toward other people. The world I come from values respect and goodwill toward fellow human beings, so after laughing at your childish behavior, I field-stripped the ember from my cigarette and threw my trash into the proper receptacle (everybody hates a litterbug), then proceeded to spend the rest of my day holding doors open for people, and being as polite and courteous to the people around me as I possibly could in defiance of your ignorant vitriol.
One nice lady saw me hold the door open for somebody else and actually came over to thank me in the Social Sciences Building later that night. What a sweet woman. You should take courtesy tips from her, Mister Bicycle, as should we all.
I spent six years serving my country overseas, and since I came Home in 2011, I have noticed something disturbing. My people, those for whom I have travelled across three continents, those for whom I ended lives that they may sleep peacefully, for whom I have bled, cried, and fought, are treating each other in completely unacceptable ways.
It starts with things like your casual disrespect of strangers, Mister Bicycle. It escalates to such atrocities as sexual assault, and culminates in things like we have recently observed in Newtown, Connecticut, and Washington DC. That I would need to specify which incident in DC should be further indication that something is terribly wrong with our collective behavior.
It’s a loss of empathy, a disregard for the lives and feelings of others. Call it arrogance, ignorance, hatred, what have you. But it boils down to a person’s firm belief that theirs is the only way, the knowledge that they are right, everyone else is wrong, and should get out of the way or pay the price.
People don’t just simply wake up one morning and decide to inflict horrendous pain upon their defenseless neighbors. It takes years of learned behavior, of observing the social norms, then analyzing the situation and making drastic and terrible logical conclusions. Like many of my brother and sister Alaskans who have gone abroad, I have had my eyes opened and have seen this despicable cancer gain ever more traction in the actions of our peers.
The people I fought treated others in the same way, and I cannot let this stand. My father taught me to protect the weak, and speak the truth even when my voice trembles.
In my previous endeavors I let my rifle speak for me against tyranny, injustice, and hate. In these latter, and more peaceful days among the people I love with every last fiber of my being, I have learned again to use the greatest tool in the American arsenal: my words.
So I beseech you, my friends, neighbors, countrymen -- to choose not the path of least resistance in your social interactions. I dare you to consider respect a two-way street.
Though kindness and goodwill may not have immediate tangible results, your simple smile or helping hand can have remarkable second and third-order effects on those around you. The next person you encounter on life’s path may be having a terrible day, may be considering a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Like that sweet lady in the Social Sciences Building, you have the power to change your own little corner of this Great Land for the better. If you want to thank a veteran, then do so by being good to one another, and make our sacrifices mean something.
Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin recently said that we Americans weren’t an exceptional people. Let us energetically show the world how false that is. I challenge us all to love one another, to care about and treat people with dignity no matter who or what they love, no matter their sex, color, or creed.
Bryan Box is a veteran of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. When not studying as a Biological Sciences major at the University of Alaska Anchorage, or conducting duties as the vice president of Student Veterans of UAA, he spends his time writing and experimenting with advanced agricultural techniques.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.