Dear Neighbor: In support of futile gestures

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 2, 2023

By Nan Lund

Dear Neighbor,

Does it feel like we are being confronted by more terrible things that are beyond our ability to change? Climate change, crime, politicians that squabble more than they act and much more. I’ve heard people say “I can’t deal with anymore and I’m going to just ignore it. No more news, please.”Or, “I can’t do anything about it so why try.” 

Hold on. Before we give up, let’s take a look at gestures that may seem futile, but may be good for us. I agree that recycling will not save the world but it makes me feel better. Over time, it may save a tree from being cut down for more paper or create new products like Green Toys made from plastic milk jugs. Keeping it out of the landfill helps preserve more of our land for other use, like parks or gardens. Carrying a bag when taking a walk to pick up trash helps to make our roadways and neighborhoods healthier and more inviting. Turning my thermostat up two degrees in the summer and down two degrees in the winter does not make me uncomfortable but may over time help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels to produce that energy. If I plant a tree, it increases the oxygen in the air and provides shade that reduces the heat that reaches us. It provides shelter for birds who scatter seeds to increase growing vegetation and who eat many bugs that bug us. You could add dozens of gestures to this.

What about crime? In 2013, a mayoral candidate in Florida claimed that prisons estimate the number of beds they will need based on the reading level of third graders. This turns out not to be literally true, but there is undeniable evidence of the relationship between literacy and incarceration rates. Approximately 16 percent of children who do not read on grade level by the end of third grade do not finish high school. Those students have been found to be 63 percent more likely to be incarcerated than college graduates. So there is a connection between struggling in third grade and likelihood of committing a crime. So what can we do? Tutor early elementary students to help them meet that third-grade standard. More volunteers are needed in every school and Rowan County Literacy Council and Communities in Schools are two places to sign up. Mentoring students at risk for dropping out can also play a role in reducing that 16 percent that we may lose to the streets. Read to preschoolers in daycares. Will this solve our crime problem? Well, probably not but wouldn’t you agree that every incarceration that is prevented is to all of our benefit; it means that a crime didn’t happen and someone is likely to be an engaged community member who can in turn help young people stay out of trouble. 

And those politicians? Yes, they are irritating, but most of them want what is best for the country; they just can’t agree on what that is. Here’s where you have to do some homework. What is important to you? Do you see climate change as a threat, especially now as people are dying of heat or drowning in floods? Pay attention to what candidates are saying and doing to find some solutions to this catastrophic threat and vote for those who make the most sense, even if there is something about them that you don’t like. Who has a commonsense approach to the availability of guns? Abortion? Immigration? You have to decide what issues are most important to you and don’t just listen to the loudest voices that often give us inaccurate information.

 Maybe what you do is not futile. Maybe this is where you have the greatest impact on helping to heal what ails the world and our society. And maybe it is worth making an effort simply because you can and it makes you feel you can make a difference in some small way. And it’s free!

Dear Neighbor” authors are united in a belief that civility and passion can coexist. We believe curiosity and conversation make us a better community.