THE OXBOW INCIDENT – The Problem with Absolutes DRAFT

Ox-Bow-still-3The film wasn’t a hit at the box office – as a matter of fact it lost a fortune. Yet it’s considered one of the great films of all time. The Ox Bo Incident is a story about people and what they can do when they allow themselves to block out reason – when they think in absolute.

The story is staged in a hot, desolate, cactus ridden town. Cowboys Gil Carter (Henry Fonda) and Art Croft (Harry Morgan) ride into town – stopping at the local saloon, where they get into an altercation. About that time another cowboy enters the saloon with news that a local rancher has been killed by rustlers. The sheriff is out of town, so a posse – with lynching intentions – is formed.

This group comes upon three strangers in the middle of the night – strangers who have some of the rancher’s cattle. Even though the leader of the three explains that he purchased the cattle from the rancher, the group refuses to believe him. The lynch mob hangs the strangers only to find out later from the sheriff that the three weren’t the offenders and that the rancher hadn’t even been killed.

It seems that politics too has become more and more about absolutes – more like the lynch mob thinking in the “Ox Bo Incident.”

There’s the Republican absolutes versus the Democratic absolutes. The candidates profess that the opposition is absolute evil and cannot possibly do anything right for America. The country will crumble if the other person is voted into office. And on, and on.

We’ve even come to expect politicians to speak in absolutes. If one candidate doesn’t live up to an absolute performance then he’s criticized as “too soft on the opposition, too soft on terrorism, too soft on big business.”

Frankly, absolutes are a lazy way to operate. It tells us nothing about the candidate and we risk lynching some good folks.

The reason it’s lazy is it doesn’t require the candidate to explain their plan. Heck, they don’t even need to have a plan.

If a politician can get us thinking in absolutes, then we’ll totally block out the other candidate. We won’t even give the other person a chance. “We’re not listening to your story about how you got those cattle – we came here to do some lynching!”

I do understand the reluctance to lay out a plan because that’s risky. Even if your plan is the greatest thing since sliced bread – it won’t be portrayed that way by the opposition.

One of the key reasons the Ox Bo Incident movie wasn’t a hit at the box office is because people want a happy ending – absolutely. The problem is life’s not perfect – it’s not absolute. If you work hard and do what’s right, it doesn’t always work out. You won’t always get the job. You won’t always win the game. You won’t always get the girl.

It’s time we become a nation of thinkers, not a lynch mob looking for a simple solution.

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