The Game Warden’s Badge

An event I observed decades ago on a dove hunting field created a memory I will never forget. Opening day of dove season is a social event, the hunt, or shoot, occurs on a large field, 30, 40, or more acres; hunters with shotguns are spread around the field. There are social norms of politeness in these hunts. Lots of camouflage is worn. On this particular day in the early fall, I was there with my brother and dad at the invitation of the ranch owner, our next door neighbor. All invitiees were sure to stop by and say “thank you for the invitation” to the ranch owner; one invitee was a Duval County judge. As the shoot started, a man with a stick, wearing blue jeans and a camouflage t-shirt, walked through the field. The man was pleasant and polite, and as he approached us all individually, he did what he was supposed to do as a game warden: he identified himself verbally before he checked our guns, our licenses, and that we were within limits. As we later learned, the judge found a wallet in the field. In it was the warden’s badge. As the warden walked back past the judge, the judge called him over and asked something like, “You have been telling us all day that you are the game warden, how do we know?” The warden retorted, “Let me show you my badge” then stuttered as he could not find it in his pocket. He told the judge, “I must have left it in my truck or lost it somewhere…” The judge handed over the badge and wallet and identified himself as a judge and suggested the warden learn a lesson to apply if he hears give that “excuse” for a hunter’s failure to have his/her hunting license. I hope the warden learned a lesson; he departed the area quickly after that encounter. And, I have thought the lesson of not making assumptions was clear in this example. A warden, or any authority figure, who fails to consider that “things happen,” people are people, and sometimes people are telling the truth, instead, jumping to a pre-programmed response, may be making a big mistake. This is true with family, with employees, in jury selection, indeed, anywhere in which a sense of superiority or authority may create blinders.

Jumping to conclusions is rarely a good thing to do. Sometimes, one may be right, however, other times, one may be wrong. David mentions authority figures who fail to consider all of the circumstances before wrongly accusing someone of something. We have all heard numerous examples of police officers who shoot first and ask questions later, but there are numerous examples in most people’s lives that involve more everyday situations. David and I have attended hundreds of concerts, in many cities, in countless venues. Most of the concerts we attend have reserved seating. There have been many occasions when someone else is sitting in “our” seats, either when we first arrive at the show or after we have left our seats to wait in an endless line for the restroom or refreshments. My first reaction, upon seeing someone in our seats, was, typically, something like, “What’s wrong with these people? Can’t they read their ticket and locate their seats instead of sitting in ours? Why didn’t they ask an usher to show them where they were supposed to sit? How long will it take to get them out of our seats so that we can enjoy the show?”, etc. This reaction changed when, one time, David and I, along with our friends Charlie and Diana, were at a concert. David, Diana, and I left our seats during the intermission between bands, with Charlie remaining behind to guard our precious real estate. Lo and behold, when we came back, there were 4 other people in our seats, with poor Charlie standing sheepishly in the aisle. We asked Charlie what was wrong and how he could have allowed those interlopers to sit in “our” seats. He exclaimed, “It turns out those 4 people have tickets proving the seats we were sitting in are theirs, not ours. They told me we’d better move and, next time, we need to check our tickets more carefully.” Guess what? We were the true interlopers! We were the people in other people’s seats! We were the clueless, hapless concert goers who failed to know where we were seated! From that evening forward, when someone is in our seats, I give them the benefit of the doubt, just in case we, not they, made a mistake. A sense of entitlement, regardless if it is due to one’s perceived (or actual) authority over others or merely because one purchased a concert ticket, can lead to assumptions that, when checked, prove to be incorrect.

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