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Fair following a greedy trend.

Byline: Bob Welch / The Register-Guard

SOMETHING ABOUT the Lane County Fair's decision to no longer offer free admission to people with disabilities bothers me.

What bothers most people, it seems, is that those who'd been given a financial break in years past are no longer being given that break.

What bothers me more is the apparent thinking that went into the decision - that the change was made, in part, to keep the fair in line with similar events.

Fair officials say they got clearance from human rights advocates, made the decision before the 2001 fair and passed out fliers telling people that things would change for last week's 2002 event. They did.

"We were trying to bring our policy more in line with what other events do," a fair spokeswoman told The Register-Guard. "We were about the only ones who still did this."

That's what concerns me - this increasingly dangerous idea that, if in doubt, "go with the flow." That there's safety in numbers. That right and wrong can somehow be determined by the collective pulse of the business masses.

But aren't the holdouts sometimes right? Isn't it possible that the masses are blind and the minority have remarkable vision? That the free-admission-for-those-with-disabilities policy was a refreshingly wonderful idea? In my eyes, it imbued the event with the kind of "we-care-for-people" attitude that would seem healthy for a county fair to cultivate.

Sadly, it's also an attitude that seems to be waning, and underappreciated, in a culture that's busy super-sizing itself in greed. From corporate fraud to government bullying to the gas-pump jockey who has the time and the squeegee but no interest in washing your windshields, America is growing colder.

We've long been locked in a battle between givers and takers, but now the ship seems to be listing hard toward the latter. And as it does, the passengers seem to be making the same mistake. Everyone is rushing to the side that's imperiling the vessel in the first place: the we-first side.

Some, of course, will argue that the fair had no responsibility to cut slack to people with disabilities so why should it?

I agree that the fair had no such obligation. And I'm not arguing that the fair owes it to the community, or to people with disabilities, to continue the freebie policy simply because it's done so in the past.

I'm arguing that we are a sad, broken society if in our rush to follow others, we refuse to go beyond the bounds of legal obligation.

IN BUMPER sticker speak, some might describe the fair's former policy as a random act of kindness. Perhaps - though any act of kindness would seem to have a certain intentionality to it that would negate such randomness.

More accurately, what the fair offered people with disabilities was grace - "unmerited favor," according to Webster's.

By law, we've decided that people with disabilities deserve access to the same things nondisabled people have access to. But no law says they deserve free entry into a fair. Organizers were offering people with disabilities something they didn't merit.

Alas, grace doesn't fare particularly well in a world awash in greed. After all, grace asks a price; to offer it, the Lane County Fair gave up income, a noble gesture indeed. But, then, that's why grace is so valuable: Like everything else in this world worth having, it costs something.

I was at Willie's On Seventh Street restaurant in Eugene once when a couple came in with a little girl who was tired and fussy. Without a hitch, the host scooted a table aside, brought two chairs together and, using a tablecloth, made her a little bed on which she was soon fast asleep.

Grace. The restaurant didn't have to - it cost time and effort - but did it anyway.

Last June, Ground-Up Construction of Eugene quoted a colleague of mine $170 for a small cement job. Midway through the procedure, the foreman knocked on the door and asked my colleague to rewrite the check for $120; the job hadn't proven as difficult as originally thought.

Grace. The company didn't have to - it cost Ground-Up nearly a third of its profit - but did it anyway.

Had the construction company not wanted to be "the only ones who still did this," the foreman would have eschewed any thought of returning $50; after all, a contract had been agreed upon.

Had the restaurant been seeking to "bring its new policy more in line with what other (businesses) do," the host wouldn't have lifted a finger to help.

But what if, in our haste to get "in line with others," we one day realize a terrible truth: that the ship is sinking. And it's all because we've all rushed to the graceless other side?

Bob Welch can be reached by calling 338-2354 or by e-mail at bwelch@guardnet.com.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Aug 22, 2002
Words:810
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