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  • Writer's pictureMike Matson

Question Everything

This column was published October 28, 2023 in the Manhattan Mercury.

 

I continue to be humbled, and pleasantly surprised, by reactions to this column. Complete strangers literally flag me down on the sidewalks of public thoroughfares and say nice things. That’s anecdotal evidence of a couple things, I guess. I retain the ability to arrange words and sentences in a manner sufficient to evoke an unsolicited, proactive kudo, and a lot of folks still read the paper.


Chance sidewalk encounters don’t exactly lend themselves to a thorough examination of columnist motivation, but columns do, so here goes.


A lifelong Kansan, I was born in Manhattan when my father was earning an agronomy degree during the Bob Boozer era. We lived in an 18-foot mobile home in the Blue Valley trailer court where he emptied 55-gallon drums of trailer court trash to earn the scratch to keep us in pureed peas and diapers. As part of his studies, he planted a pair of pine trees next to our trailer, which still stand.


His best advice, what sticks with me, is ‘question everything.’


The early part of my childhood was spent in rural Plainville, home on Mom’s side (also Sen. Jerry Moran’s childhood home). I once wrote a column about my first grade experience the day JFK was assassinated. Moran remembered that day too, as an older kid in the same school, helping shepherd us little kids on to the school bus after learning the news.


I can be and am – many people. My wife’s husband, my son’s father, and my mother’s son. I’m also a grandfather, a brother and an uncle. In those roles, I strive to do right by those I love and who love me.


My wife bleeds purple. She’s CEO of a Kansas City-based system with decades of storied tradition and is managing its move from Missouri to Kansas, so we’re apart as much as together these days and I am living testament to the notion that absence makes the heart grow fonder. We’ll celebrate our 25th anniversary 48 hours after the coming winter solstice.



Probably subconsciously, my father’s advice led to a career that can be broadly defined in three amorphous pools – journalism, politics and advocacy. Professionally, I am also many things, a director of “external affairs,” a newspaper columnist, an author and a systems consultant. It keeps me in button-downs and penny loafers, scratches a creativity itch and allows me to strive to fulfill what I have come to believe as the reason I am here.


Please note the word, “strive,” with the implication that sometimes I fall short.


While I try purposefully to steer clear of politics here, I’m not shy about mucking around in culture, from which politics derives. It wouldn’t take long for a column like this to descend into ideology, but culture cannot be compartmentalized.


I write about the juxtaposition of a new, unknown culture, social issues, deeply held beliefs and ways of being. Those latter two have served most people pretty well over the decades but may no longer measure up. There’s a vast middle space where there is more than one truth.


In terms of life lessons, I’ve learned you don’t have to swing at every pitch, not to knee-jerk react, there are always multiple views and nuances to every circumstance. And that in the actual structure and process of the picking of your battles, you are exercising exactly the skills and ability that will help win that battle.


I don’t have to work to stay in the middle. It’s an innate default and, give or take a few degrees, I’ve been there all my adult life. I was never lonely in the middle, but it does seem like there are fewer of us. Maybe it’s just those on either side are getting noisier.


Thank you for your interest in this column, thanks for buying this newspaper, but most of all, thank you for thinking about our community, society and culture.


It means a lot. To all of us.

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