Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rummaging for the future in the past

By Bob Gaydos

I’ve spent the past few days rummaging through cardboard boxes and those old post office mail crates (tell me you don’t have a couple stashed away) on a search for some personal stuff long ago relegated to the archives, AKA the walk-in closet. I do this kind of stuff when I’m avoiding writing for this blog or, as is more often the case, when the only stuff to write about is seemingly the same, old nasty crap. Sorry for the bluntness, but that’s the way I feel about it.

My Zestoforange co-bloggers, Jeff Page and Michael Kaufman, bless their ever-acerbic minds and hearts seem to have no difficulty rising to the challenge of commenting on whatever may be the controversy du jour. They continue to call out the bad guys and thank God for that. I pretty much agree with what they write, but to me it is all part of an endlessly recycled argument in which nobody ever listens to the other side. It’s the stuff that ends marriages and divides nations. At some point, it’s pointless.

So I wasn’t going to write about the shootings in Arizona because I didn’t think I had anything new to say and, more to the point, it wouldn’t make any difference. And then, as I’m rummaging through the boxes, discarding old memos and scanning old editorials, I come across a copy of the Times Herald-Record from Dec. 22, 2006. Why am I keeping this? I flip through to find out and suddenly it hits me in the face: “ ‘Final’ thoughts of an editor.”

My last editorial at the Record. The one they let me sign. The one that expressed exactly what I talked about at the top of this piece and that still holds true more than four years later. I wrote about my worries. To wit:

“I’m worried. Not about Iraq, or global warming, or terrorism, or even urban sprawl. Well, sure, I’m worried about those things, but, truthfully, they’re mostly out of the control of any one of us. It requires collective action, a meeting of the minds, — compromise — to do something positive about complicated issues. What worries me is I think we’ve forgotten how to do this — all of us, not just Congress and the state Legislature. … I think our society has become coarser and, in many ways, less tolerant. This is evident in our culture, our schools, our political debate.

“Honest differences of opinion over the most mundane issues now routinely degenerate into personal attack and shouting matches. You hear a lot of this on TV and radio. The internet puts no filters on any opinion, however hateful or unfounded in fact. It is ‘buyer beware’ and pretty much free of charge. We have abdicated debate to the extremes. We complain about politicians who can’t work together, yet constantly return to office those same officials because they delivered some money for a favorite cause. …

“Here’s where the stuff comes in we don’t want to hear, the stuff we call hokey or lame or na├»ve. Sorry if you feel that way. Complain to the next guy.

“We have to stop whining and yelling at each other and listen for a change. We need to stop looking for someone to blame and accept personal responsibility. That doesn’t mean ignoring the liars and charlatans in our midst. It means expressing in clear, no-nonsense, non-threatening terms what we expect of each other. It means respecting those who mean us no harm but may disagree with us. It means recognizing our common roots and dreams, as individuals and neighbors. It means teaching our children by deeds as well as words. It means fessing up to our mistakes and honestly trying to fix them.”

Yeah, that’s how I still feel. Nobody is trying to fix things. Well, almost nobody.

My 16-year-old son, Zack, came home from school Thursday and said, “Obama’s speech was really moving last night.”

“Really?” I replied, confessing with some embarrassment I hadn’t known the president planned to speak and never bothered to listen to him later.

“Yeah,” Zack said, “I was going to watch ‘The Office,’ but Obama was speaking so I listened. It was powerful.”

Well now. I was reminded. Yes, Barack Obama, someone I have criticized for not facing down his hypocritical critics on the right, clearly understands the need to find the solution rather than living endlessly in the problem. It is in his DNA as well as in his books. It’s why I and many others were thrilled when he was elected president. Persistently trying to bring people together, to disagree civilly, to compromise, is often seen as a sign of weakness, but it’s what I was looking for when I said goodbye to the Record.

Now, I will still have trouble rising to the challenge of the controversy du jour, so don’t expect a flood of harangues and harrumphs all of a sudden. But Zack reminded me that the future may not be as bleak as I had thought. You have no idea how good that made me feel.

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