A lot of moral dilemmas have a simple black-and-white answer. No matter how people try to excuse away bad choices, there are still moral absolutes that tell us it is wrong to steal from others, or to seek personal revenge on someone.
But we can easily forget that the same rule doesn’t apply to people. People are not simply “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”. Yet we often dismiss someone who appears to be “in the wrong”, rather than considering their needs.
“Handy Manny” is a wonderful cartoon about Manny Garcia (Wilmer Valderamma), a local handyman who assists his community with the help of his talking tools. In the multi-cultural neighborhood of Sheetrock Hills, Manny gets to work with all sorts of people on a variety of projects. At the same time, he finds opportunity to explain some of his own Hispanic traditions, such as celebrating Cinco de Mayo or Quinceañera.
In the episode, “Skateboard Park”, Mayor Rosa calls Manny and the tools with a serious problem. Kids are skateboarding through the crowded park and making it dangerous for others trying to use the sidewalks. Some of the park visitors are elderly, and can’t maneuver out of harm’s way. Small children are also present, and the skateboarders can’t always stop themselves quickly enough to avoid a dangerous crash. The combination of speeding skateboarders and other foot traffic is a bad accident waiting to happen. So the mayor asks Manny to post a sign that prohibits skateboarding in the park.
It seems like a simple job. Until Manny meets his friend, Elliot (Lance Bass), one of the skateboarders. Manny explains how dangerous it has become for Elliot’s friends to skateboard in between all of the other park visitors.
“But it’s the only place to skateboard in town,” Elliot argues. His buddies need a place to skateboard safely, where there are no cars, and the park has plenty of wide sidewalks to use.
When Mayor Rosa arrives to emphasize the problem, Elliot insists, “But we’re soooo careful!” Sadly, Elliot’s skateboarding buddy demolishes his argument a moment later, as he crashes his skateboard onto the grass nearby.
Manny tells Elliot that they have no choice. They can’t risk the safety of everyone else in the park. Elliot sadly complies, trudging away with his skateboard under his arm.
For most of us, the problem would be solved. Sure, it’s unfortunate that the kids can’t skateboard anywhere, but there’s simply no alternative.
But Manny decides to press for a better solution. Having no ideas of his own, he goes to a trusted friend, Kelly (Nancy Truman), who runs the hardware store and always has whatever Manny needs for a project. This time, he needs a better idea.
Kelly listens to the problem, remembering how Elliot loves skateboarding in the park. “Well, it’s too bad there isn’t a part of the park that’s just for skateboarders,” she notes.
Manny thanks Kelly, realizing she has just given him the solution he needs. He returns to Mayor Rosa and suggest that he and the tools build a ramped skateboarding area in a corner of the park, where the skateboarders won’t risk running into anyone else. Mayor Rosa loves the idea. “I should have known you would come up with a way to make everyone happy!” she beams.
Working within a community means taking everyone’s needs into consideration. It’s not always possible to find a solution that fits for everyone. But more often than not, people simply don’t make the extra effort to come up with better ideas. Working through a problem until you find a solution that satisfies everyone is difficult and time-consuming. Some people simply don’t feel it’s worth the hassle. Especially when they view one affected group as clearly “in the wrong”, just like Elliot and his troublesome skateboarding friends.
For more information about “Handy Manny”, click on the picture link at left for an interview with Wilmer Valderamma, the voice of Handy Manny.
SIDE NOTE: When my very handy wife, Nicki, was working on a project, our three-year old daughter was astounded at her ability to repair things. “Mommy, you’re like Handy Manny,” Abby said, awestruck. Right after Nicki thanked her, Abby said, “Daddy is like Mr. Lopart.”
For those who don’t know, Mr.Lopart is the bumbling candy store owner with a comb-over, who breaks everything he tries to fix.
I think she just wanted to give me a part on the show …
Friday, April 30th, 2010