Column: Negative is easy to see, but good things can’t be overlooked

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Recently I heard a comment about my writing from people whom I respect. Why are you always so negative about things, especially the government and other things about our country, they asked. Why are you always picking on people?

My first thought was to object, to say, &uot;wait a minute, I’m not negative about everything. There are plenty of things I like about this community and our country.&uot; But I decided I’d better just hold my tongue and actually go back and read my columns, something I don’t do very often.

As it turned out, my critics were asking a fair question. I was not picking on someone in every single article, but there was a lot of griping and sniping at different kinds of people, especially politicians. And yes, it did bother me once I noticed it.

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Part of that &uot;negativity&uot; is the context. I write essays for the opinion page of a newspaper. Tradition dictates that criticism of the &uot;way things are&uot; and the people in charge is part of the job. Some of us, it is true, like to go after those with whom we disagree using verbal sledgehammers, like R. Cort Kirkwood does, or by trying to be funny at their expense, the way Molly Ivins is famous for. But whether it is blunt or subtle, the general tone is one of criticism, not celebration. If you want &uot;nice&uot; articles, read the Lifestyles section, not the opinion page.

But another reason for the &uot;edge&uot; to my own perspective is that I am by nature a skeptic, even a pessimist. I’m always looking for the flaws, the reasons that something won’t work or the consequences that others have overlooked. My eyes look for the darkness in things, and in a world constructed by humans, darkness isn’t all that hard to find.

It’s not that I enjoy writing about the dark side of our society, but when so many people seem willing to pretend the dark side doesn’t exist, I don’t feel like I have a choice. Sure, I know that President Bush wants our country to be safe and strong, but I can’t just ignore how his violent solutions to the world’s problems will mean that the short term good he brings about will be undermined and then overwhelmed by the long term problems he makes worse. Pointing that out doesn’t make me unpatriotic.

Spending all my energy writing about the darkness around us, however, is not necessarily healthy. Even Mr. Kirkwood writes about things he likes, every couple of years or so. I know that every day contains its own beauty, whether the sky is blue and the sun is shining or the clouds bring rain. I believe that the efforts of even one person can have a positive effect on the future. I have faith that the light is stronger than the darkness.

So in order to bring some balance to this space, here are just a couple of things I admire about our community and country:

– Our children attend two different school districts in this county, and we have been pleased and impressed with both. My contact with other school districts during the time I worked as a staff writer for the Tribune showed me other schools that were also quite impressive. The schools in other states that our oldest also attended (in North Dakota and Iowa) had good teachers and strong curricula. Despite the current controversies swirling about public education in this state (and in our country), I think our public schools do an excellent job helping children learn.

– I’m proud of the way people of all ages continue to step forward as volunteers throughout our country, as well as here in Freeborn County, with many of them not wanting attention called to the work they do. Without the willing hands of volunteers, organizations like Hospice, the Red Cross, local libraries, museums and even schools would have a much harder time carrying out their missions. Without volunteers, some organizations might just have to give up.

There are many other things I like about life in our country right now, but space runs short. Along with all the &uot;criticism,&uot; I can see I need to make a greater effort in the future to write about those good things, too.

David Rask Behling is a rural Albert Lea resident. His column appears Tuesdays.