solution to our ills: Be sweet
Whenever I left my late mother's home, and we are talking a period of over 40 years, she
would always end her goodbyes with these two words:
When I was a child on my way to a friend's birthday party, I suppose that meant not to
stick my finger in the cake or do a lot of whining and crying.
In my teen years it meant not to steal any hubcaps.
As an adult, I guess now she was beseeching me not to rob a liquor store, engage in any
insider trading, and to go out amongst them each day with a smile and agreeable
I can't recall sticking my finger into too many birthday cakes, but I very likely ignored
the part about no whining nor crying when things didn't go my way on occasion -- such as
when I pinned the tail on the donkey's esophagus.
I never stole a hubcap. Not one.
As an adult I've never robbed anything nor have I engaged in much of any kind of trading
that was profitable.
But that other stuff -- the daily smile, the agreeable disposition -- well, I've had my
I notoriously have not been sweet to such individuals as waiters and waitresses I've
deemed slow or unable to service correctly what I considered to be the simplest of orders.
Many a rental car clerk has known my verbal wrath, not to mention motel housekeepers who
bang on my door too quickly after the first crow of morning, people I don't know who
address me as "buddy" and liberals.
Yet, my mother's words, so simple, were so implicit:
We have recognized the terror that is the violence amongst us today.
Television has moved it out front of eating disorders, Satan worship, and women who run
with wolves, which is a certain sign it is presently the No. 1 discussable public issue.
The drive-by shootings. Another kid shot dead in the school. The yellow police line tape
and pools of drying blood on a mean street on the 11 o'clock news.
The money we will spend, the hours we will study and discuss in an effort to find a
But isn't it right there in Miss Christine's words -- Be sweet?
We aren't sweet. The truth is we don't honor sweet. We don't even like sweet. Sweet is
Women go to classes to learn not to be sweet.
Men. We've got an entire generation of young toughs out there who are drunk and dying on
their own testosterone.
Being sweet can get you killed in that group.
It's a manhood thing. An Atlanta Falcons football player, Andre Rison, decides somebody
has challenged his manhood outside an Atlanta nightclub.
So he goes to his car and gets his gun.
There's this "dis" thing. It's street talk for "disrespect." I've got
dis big gun here. Respect me or I'll shoot you.
No. No. Be sweet.
Be kind and be gentle. Be tolerant. Be forgiving and slow to anger. Be tender and be able
to cry. Be kind to old people and dogs and don't cut off any part of anybody else's
Be loving. Be tender. Share. Don't pout. Don't be so loud. Hold a puppy. Kiss a hand. Put
your arms around a frightened child.
Make an outstanding athletic play and then don't do The King Tut Butt Strut to bring
attention to yourself and point to the inadequacies of the vanquished. Be sweet. The
wonders that might do. The wonders that just might do.
I can still hear you, Mama.
The Atlanta Journal
January 7, 1994