Saturday, October 20, 2012

Donna the deer lady


Not long ago, a young woman who works as a receptionist for a medical practice in Fargo, North Dakota, rang the local breakfast radio program. The call, which has since gone viral, made it clear that the woman had three separate car accidents involving deer, and her proposal, her plea, her cry in the wilderness, was: Why on earth can’t they simply move the deer crossing signs on busy roads and interstate highways to safer or more convenient places such as school crossings, or less populated areas? This young woman was, to the stupefaction and amusement of her hosts, clearly laboring under the misapprehension that deer signs designate a sort of pedestrian crossing for the convenience of deer, and are not in fact a warning to motorists. To be fair, her argument was based on weird logic: If only the signs were moved, fewer deer would get hurt. Profound stupidity can be funny. No doubt this explains why the call went viral. Yet there are a few other dimensions to this odd vignette that are uniquely and deliciously American. In a subsequent call, Donna the deer lady—as she has since become known—bravely acknowledged her original mistake. She said that she had grown up in a comparatively isolated rural community in North Dakota, and was therefore, by implication, somewhat insulated from the ways of more urbanized patches of civilization—for not long ago she moved with her husband to Fargo. She loves animals. She even warmly thanked the radio station for being so nice to her in the first place. Having been held up to ridicule by millions, this last point seems almost as ill-judged as the original call. Still, from the midst of her mental fog, which one hopes is now beginning to clear, Donna also demonstrated an admirable degree of determination to urge those in authority to address a problem of public concern, and in language framed by directness, persistence, but courtesy. She wrote to the newspaper. She contacted her local television station. She managed to get herself on the radio. Her expectation was that something could and should be done, and she would tackle it herself. She now accepts that a solution is probably to be found somewhere else. Good on her. No doubt we all have blind spots, and it would be unwise to pretend that we do not harbor within certain black holes of ignorance. Admittedly, one likes to think that road signs are mostly self-explanatory, but clearly this is not necessarily the case. Indeed, it is as sobering an experience to be made aware of your own blind spot as it is amusing to identify a great big one exhibited so publicly to the embarrassment of someone else. In that event I doubt if I could react as graciously as Donna the deer lady has, or exhibit such exemplary humility.

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