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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Opinion >  Syndicated columns

Leonard Pitts Jr.: The wisdom of experience is a priceless gift … that many spurn

By Leonard Pitts Jr. Tribune Content Agency

Many years ago, one of my sons came to me excited about a promotional offer from some bank. I no longer remember the offer or the bank, but I do remember telling him not to fall for it; I had accepted a similar offer years before, and it cost me several of my favorite limbs and the shirt off my back. If a thing sounds too good to be true, I advised, it probably is.

Long story short, he signs up anyway. A couple years later, he tells me his decision has, yes, cost him several of his favorite limbs and the shirt off his back. “You were right,” he says, ruefully. We were driving at the time, and I swear, I almost went off the road. Because, of course I was right. There was never a question that I was right. So why couldn’t he have just listened to me and saved himself some grief?

I’ve always taken it as illustration of an enduring paradox. Namely, that experience is a thing of extraordinary value and often exorbitant price. And yet, when you try to give it away, to hand it over to someone else free of charge, they frequently refuse to accept it.

That’s frustrating when you’re dealing with financial matters. It is beyond frustrating when you’re dealing with life and death. And here I’m thinking of Philip Valentine, whose funeral was last weekend. He was a conservative radio host and vaccine skeptic in Nashville who recently died of COVID-19. Not that I was personally touched by his death; I’d never even heard of him before he was hospitalized.

But he has become the latest symbol of this era’s defining cliche: the COVID-19 denier or vaccine holdout who ends up dying an excruciating death and wishing he had not refused to accept the benefit of other people’s experience. Not to pick on Valentine. He is not the first and, sadly, probably will not be the last. But again, he is the latest on a list that is growing long.

California church member Stephen Harmon scoffed at trusting Dr. Anthony Fauci over the Bible. He died of COVID-19.

Las Vegas dad Michael Freedy declined the vaccine because he was scared of side effects. He died of COVID-19.

Texas GOP official H. Scott Apley posted a meme mocking the virus. He died of COVID-19.

West Palm Beach radio host Dick Farrel claimed COVID-19 was overblown. He died of COVID-19.

Texas piano teacher Lydia Rodriguez thought she didn’t need a vaccine. She died of COVID-19.

Now there’s Valentine. He said his chances of dying from COVID-19 were vanishingly small. He died of COVID-19 on Aug. 21.

And the galling irony is that people who would not accept the proffered gift of someone else’s experience often die asking other people to accept the gift of theirs. Or as a July Facebook post from Valentine’s family put it, he “regrets not being more vehemently ‘Pro-Vaccine’ and looks forward to being able to more vigorously advocate that position as soon as he is back on the air.”

Which he never was.

We may be thankful that government and businesses have begun adopting more coercive measures toward vaccine holdouts – Delta Airlines has hit unvaccinated employees with a $200 monthly surcharge on their health care premiums, while the military is making vaccinations mandatory – but it is to our everlasting shame that such extremes are even necessary.

Where COVID-19 is concerned, experience is a priceless commodity that has already been purchased for us in bulk at ruinous prices and is being given away for free. Yet some people will not accept the gift.

They insist on buying their own.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via email at

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