Column
December 18, 2014

The way that I see it…

By Dom Cioffi

Each workday morning, I arrive at my office before any other employees. As such, I have to unlock the doors and shut off the security system. I then head to my desk, turn on my computer, unload any relevant paperwork, arrange my coffee and breakfast snacks, and then settle into my chair.

Once I’m comfortable, I will then sit for five or ten minutes and peruse the online news while sipping my coffee. It’s usually calm, quiet and extremely relaxing.

However, as much as I enjoy this “me” time, the news I read tends to breed a level of discomfort.

The headlines as of late have been especially troubling: “Man murders wife and children”; “Islamic militants behead journalist”; “Woman pushes fiancé off cliff.” The morbid stories seem endless. And just when you think you’ve heard the most gruesome possible scenario, someone comes up with something worse.

Recently the Michael Brown/Eric Garner news stories have thrust race relations back to the forefront. In each of these cases, a white officer killed a black man. As anyone who has followed these stories can attest, there’s a lot of misinformation, innuendo and endless speculation. What seems so cut and dried to one person can be radically different to another.

Having spent many years involved in the world of print media, I can speak to how easy it is for news stories to take on a radically different life when opinion is interjected in place of fact. But sometimes arriving at the facts can seem like an insurmountable goal.

I’ve found it incredibly interesting how so many people present at the scene of Michael Brown’s shooting could have so many varying descriptions of how the events unfolded. One person claims he was charging the officer with clenched fists, another claims he was surrendering with his hands up. Do we believe one person over another or do we find a middle ground somewhere between the two?

However, as the Eric Garner video proved, even when we are all allowed access to the events as they unfold (thanks to someone recording with their cellphone), we can still have radically different opinions. Was Mr. Garner purely a victim of racial injustice or was he culpable in his own death for repeatedly refusing to comply with police orders?

Psychologists have come to the forefront as these stories have been analyzed, offering up an understanding of how previous experiences and belief systems can shape and skew our interpretation of events.

Years ago I witnessed an accident that resulted in someone getting badly beaten. The entire event unfolded right in front of me. But when I relayed what I saw (and believed to be the best interpretation of what transpired), I was shocked to learn that others had a radically different opinion.

The accident occurred as I was walking down the street near a quiet intersection in Burlington. I had heard some voices yelling prior to the accident, but thought nothing of it given that I was in bustling college town.

I barely noticed as one car pulled up to the intersection, stopped for a moment and then proceeded forward.

However, halfway through the intersection that car abruptly stopped. That’s when another car following that car rammed into its rear bumper, causing a minor dust-up. 

I stopped in my tracks when I heard the crash and then witnessed both drivers get out of their car. The man in the first car started yelling and waving his hands as he approached the other man; the man in the second car barely said a word. But when the man in the first car got in the face of the man in the second car, the man in the second car proceeded to beat him unmercifully.

The entire altercation lasted no more than 30 seconds, but that was all it took for the man in the first car to end up with a bloodied and swollen face.

Both men eventually got into their cars and drove away, leaving me and several other bystanders stunned.

Conversations with those also standing nearby started revealing wildly varying accounts of the accident. While I was certain that the antagonist was the man in the first car, others were adamant that the man in the second car was. And the more I listened to these other accounts, the more confused I became with my own interpretation.

I ended up walking away from that event shaking my head and questioning my own judgment.

This week’s feature, “Top Five,” starring comedian Chris Rock, had me questioning my judgment once again.

Hailed as one of the year’s funniest films and enjoying rave reviews from all corners, “Top Five” left me wondering if I had gone to a completely different movie than other reviewers.

Don’t get me wrong, I laughed out loud several times and was pleasantly surprised at how tight the storyline was, but ultimately I found “Top Five” to be too filled with clichés to be touted as such a masterpiece.

There’s no doubt that this is Rock’s best film (which isn’t saying much given that his highest rated film prior to this was “Madagascar”), but I would not go so far as to call it one of the year’s best. But that’s just how I saw it.

Check this one out if you’re up for a humorous romp. Just be prepared for some fairly lurid subject matter along the way.  A rocking “B-” for “Top Five.”

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